By Dave Shedloski
The 81st Masters Tournament figures to provide the usual collection of thrills and drama, and yes, well before the leaders reach the back nine on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.
The first major championship of the year is traditionally the most anticipated, largely because of the storied venue, but also because it’s been nearly eight months since the previous major, the PGA Championship, was completed.
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Some fascinating storylines to follow as the week unfolds in Augusta, Georgia, include:
- Can World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who has won his last three starts, keep his form together and win his second major title?
- Can Rory McIlroy take advantage of what should be soft conditions and complete his career grand slam?
- Can Jordan Spieth, winner two years ago but a hard-luck loser last year, shake off the disappointment in Amen Corner and win a second green jacket?
- Is this the year for Sergio Garcia to break through?
- Can Jason Day get untracked this year after a tough start that included withdrawals from two WGC events, the first because of illness and the second because his mother was undergoing surgery for lung cancer?
- Is rookie sensation Jon Rahm ready right now for a major win?
There are other stories to follow as well. This year marks 20 years since Tiger Woods won his first of four Masters titles. And this year is the first since 1954 without the presence of the late Arnold Palmer at Augusta.
Meanwhile, CBS celebrates its 62nd consecutive year in 2017 broadcasting the Masters Tournament.
Jim Nantz, covering his 32nd consecutive Masters for CBS — and his 30th as host — lead analyst and three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo, producer Lance Barrow and CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus recently shared their thoughts on the upcoming tournament, with McManus noting: “It’s set up to be an exciting Masters, and we can’t wait to get started. We’ll be commemorating Arnold Palmer in a very tasteful way with our coverage on Saturday. It’s the first time in 62 years that Arnold’s presence won’t be at Augusta National, and it’s a very emotional feeling for all of us who got to know Arnold and his association with Augusta National.”
This is a great week with so many similar rhythms throughout the week. Which get you fired up or get you going? [What’s] a moment that sticks out?
Nick Faldo: I’m fortunate that I have a full week. I get there on Saturday and play golf with my son; it’s my own tradition, and it’s always wonderful. We always say, ‘It doesn’t get old.’ … I love to stand on the back balcony of the clubhouse and look out. Come Thursday we settle into the rhythm of the broadcast, which is always fun. It’s so fantastic [to] be there [to] see it live, broadcast it. Tuesday night is going to be unbelievable. It’s going to be emotional, probably the most emotional we’ve ever had. I hope we all go around the table and tell an Arnold story. That should be easy. We all can do that.
Jim Nantz: For me there are three. Wednesday, when they close the course and the Par-3 Course is going on. I like to go down to Amen Corner — it’s a ritual I have done for years — and look around and feel appreciation for being able to come back and broadcast this tournament that has meant so much to me. The second is that ceremonial first shot. I’ve never missed it. Gallery is 10-20 deep, and I just like to see it. It’s an awesome moment. I don’t know of anything as rich in sports. I’m a sentimental guy; that’s about as sweet a moment in sports as there is for me. The third is when I climb down off the tower on Sunday, when we’ve now discovered the next Masters champion. I have to make my way to Butler Cabin in a hurry and transition to the responsibility of conducting the green jacket ceremony with Chairman Payne.
How much is Rory pressing, and how does he handle the pressure?
Nick Faldo: The rib injury that kept him out six weeks might have been a good thing. He’s matured enough now to be able to prepare himself properly for a major and when he’s got a goal in front of him. He wants to achieve a very rare goal. He’s well-seasoned at Augusta. He doesn’t need a fast start, but just keep in touch of the leaders and get comfortable with all parts of his game.
Who are your favorites to win the Masters?
Nick Faldo: We’ve got a lot of great names to consider when you look down the list. Jon Rahm is playing some great golf. Sergio Garcia has been playing well in Europe. Thomas Pieters, Hideki Matsuyama, those sort of names … they have an easier run, less media attention than the top-ranked guys. The Masters is all about taking the pressure off yourself so you can run freely.
Jim Nantz: Dustin Johnson is going to be grabbing all the headlines going in with his streak of three wins. I was hoping Nick wouldn’t take this name away from me, but he did. Hideki Matsuyama has been playing great golf since October. Often times you see a guy starting well in the year, and then maybe their game tails off for a bit, and they seem to come back in April. Hideki has the resume in the past at Augusta, he’ll be a force. Phil seems to be peaking at the right time, Rory is going to be going for the career grand slam. We’re not going to be short on any storylines. You look at the champions we have had this year on the PGA TOUR, they are highly credentialed players. They all seem to be playing in peak form, including Jordan Spieth, who won at Pebble Beach. Wouldn’t it be something if he atoned for what happened last year?
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.