AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - Only when Nick Faldo took a break after playing nine holes Sunday at Augusta National did he look differently.
At least to Matt Wallace.
Faldo was asked to present prizes for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, and he had to look the part. The three-time Masters champion headed upstairs to his locker, slipped on his green jacket and returned to the trophy presentation.
Wallace, making his Masters debut, rushed over to Faldo and rubbed the sleeve of his jacket with his fingers.
“I love it,” Faldo said. “I come here, open my locker, there’s my jacket. I’ve got to tell you, it’s pretty cool. It’s a pretty special thing.”
It’s what everyone wants a week from Sunday, perhaps the most significant piece of clothing awarded in sports. And the race for it is as open as ever against the smallest field of the four majors.
Tiger Woods is going for his first Masters title in 14 years. Rory McIlroy is going for his first, which would be the last leg of the career Grand Slam. The last seven Masters champions were among the top 25 in the world, and six players from the top 10 in the world arrive at Augusta National having already won this year.
Players began filtering in at Augusta National in the last few days even as they had to share the golf course. The inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur was held the previous two days, with 72 players practicing on Friday and the 30 players who made the cut competing on Saturday.
On Sunday, parts of the practice facility, the putting green and the 18th green were occupied by kids ages 7 through 15 for the sixth Drive, Chip and Putt.
“With yesterday and today, the buzz is unbelievable,” Adam Scott said. “The kids are amazing, and it makes me feel like a kid again. As long as they’re still finding it fun, these kinds of things are so good. Just wait - one day, a Drive, Chip and Putt champion will be a Masters champion.”
Unique about the Masters, among many things, is that it’s the only major organized and hosted by a private club.
Members can play the course through Sunday, and they often do. Only past champions, like Scott and Mike Weir, are allowed to bring guests. Scott has been bringing his father, Phil, since winning in 2013.
Faldo, who won his first green jacket 30 years ago and now is the lead analyst for CBS Sports, couldn’t think of a better place to be.
“There’s nothing like this,” he said. “Sure, we’re biased because we’re in golf, but you tell me what sporting event is better than this, especially for a week? You’ll get amazing matches at Wimbledon and all sorts of things. But this, for like 10 days, there’s nothing, I don’t think. You tell me what sporting event can top this.”
One veteran European writer suggested the Tour de France.
Faldo pointed to umbrella-covered lawn tables and chairs outside the clubhouse, where visitors sipped on lemonade across from the putting green and first tee.
“You don’t have this ambiance,” he said. “Tour de France, you sit at a cafe and whoosh! There they go. And everyone says, ‘Ooh-la-la!’ And then what do you do?”
Nothing moves quickly at Augusta National except time.
Even as Sunday drew closer to the start of Masters week, so much of the chatter was on the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, heralded as a wildly successful debut, especially with the way Wake Forest senior Jennifer Kupcho took on the par 5s and played the final six holes in 5 under to win.
Kupcho dreads going back to school next week. She was back on the course Sunday soaking up a win she considered bigger than her NCAA title last year, mainly because of the stage she was on and the effect on her sport.
“To get all the support that we’ve gotten from all the fans, all the press, it’s unbelievable for the women’s game,” she said. “It was just unreal. I definitely had nerves, butterflies. And there’s no words to describe it. It was just a great round, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.”
By day’s end, as no more than five players were on the range in late afternoon with no one around, the Masters started coming into view.
“Rory wins, it’s the Grand Slam,” Faldo said. “If Tiger wins, my goodness, what’s that going to be? It might make the morning papers for three months.”
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