One of the great traditions at Augusta National is that the old champions get to come back year after year to play in the main event so long as they can get themselves through at least 18 holes without the aid of a golf cart or Zimmer frame. Neither is allowed at the Masters. Also banned are guns and knives and running.
So it was that the holy trinity of Arnold Palmer (aged 85), Jack Nicklaus (75) and Gary Player (79) waddled to the first tee shortly after the dawn chorus to hit the ceremonial first drives. Plink, plink, fizz went their drives before they headed back to the clubhouse for more coffee, bacon baps and a snooze.
Tom Watson will one day take his place in this much-loved ritual but there is still some fight left in the 65-year-old. Still enough puff in his lungs to take on the challenge of a modern-day Masters. His victories in 1977 and 1981 came from an era when woods really were made of wood and fitness routines involved the lifting of post-round pints.
Watson received a standing ovation as he walked up to the 18th green before signing for a first round one-under-par 71. A terrific performance considering he has only made the weekend cut once in the last 12 years. He doffed his cap to the crowd and grinned his way through his adoring fans up the hill back to the clubhouse.
It was all such a contrast to how he left golf’s last great arena after captaining the United States to another Ryder Cup defeat at Gleneagles last September. The knives were out for him in Scotland, where he wasn’t even stabbed in the back by Phil Mickelson. It was a full-frontal assault and it hurt this proud champion. So maybe he had a point to prove among three-times Green Jacket champion Mickelson and the rest of his losing Ryder Cup team. He may not be thought a good captain but he sure showed them he still knows how to play this old game of ball and stick.
Masters 2016 - Augusta National hole-by-hole guide
Masters 2016 - Augusta National hole-by-hole guide
1/18 1st (Tea Olive), 445 yards, par four
deep bunker on the right of the fairway and trees both sides make for a daunting start, while long and left of the undulating green both spell big trouble. Unsurprisingly played the hardest hole on the course in 2012 and ranked second in 2013.
2015 average: 4.23 (rank 4)
2/18 2nd (Pink Dogwood), 575 yards, par five
Driving into the trees on the left cost Padraig Harrington a nine in 2009, but Louis Oosthuizen memorably holed his second shot for an albatross in the final round in 2012 before losing in a play-off to Bubba Watson. An important early birdie chance.
2015 average: 4.61 (rank 16)
3/18 3rd (Flowering Peach), 350 yards, par four
Shortest par four on the course but a pear-shaped green with steep slope in front allows for some wicked pin positions. Charl Schwartzel pitched in for eagle in the final round en route to title in 2011.
2015 average: 3.95 (rank 14)
4/18 4th (Flowering Crab Apple), 240 yards, par three
The back tee - not always used - turns it into a beast with the green sloping from back to front. Phil Mickelson took six here in the final round in 2012 and finished two shots outside the play-off. Jeff Sluman's ace in 1992 remains the only hole-in-one here in Masters history.
2015 average: 3.29 (rank 2)
5/18 5th (Magnolia), 455 yards, par four
Jack Nicklaus twice holed his second shot in 1995 and Colin Montgomerie did it in 2000, but it is another devilishly difficult green. To clear the fairway bunkers requires a 315-yard carry.
2015 average: 4.14 (rank 8)
6/18 6th (Juniper), 180 yards, par three
From a high tee to a green with a huge slope in it. Five holes-in-one - including Jamie Donaldson in 2013 - but Jose Maria Olazabal took seven in 1991 and lost by one to Ian Woosnam, while Arnold Palmer has also run up a seven.
2015 average: 3.08 (rank T10)
7/18 7th (Pampas), 450 yards, par four
What used to be a real birdie chance has been lengthened by 35-40 yards, while trees were also added and the putting surface reshaped. More bunkers - five - around the green than any other hole.
2015 average: 4.24 (rank 3)
8/18 8th (Yellow Jasmine), 570 yards, par five
The bunker on the right, about 300 yards out, pushes players left and from there it is harder to find the green in two up the steep hill. Still a good birdie chance and Bruce Devlin made an albatross two in 1967.
2015 average: 4.65 (rank 15)
9/18 9th (Carolina Cherry), 460 yards, par four
The tee was pushed back 30 yards in 2002. The raised green, with two bunkers on the left, tilts sharply from the back and anything rolling off the front can continue down for 50-60 yards.
2015 average: 4.08 (rank T10)
10/18 10th (Camellia), 495 yards, par four
A huge drop from tee to green on this dogleg left and over all the years of the Masters the most difficult hole. It was here that Rory McIlroy began to fall apart in 2011 with a seven, while Watson clinched the title in 2012 by making par in the play-off from the trees.
2015 average: 4.16 (rank 6)
11/18 11th (White Dogwood), 505 yards, par four
The start of Amen Corner. Toughest hole in 2011, 2014 and 2015, with the water front and left scaring many. Best remembered for Larry Mize's chip-in in 1987 and Nick Faldo's back-to-back play-off wins.
2015 average: 4.32 (rank 1)
12/18 12th (Golden Bell), 155 yards, par three
Probably the most famous par three in golf. Narrow target, water in front, trouble at the back, it has seen everything from a one to Tom Weiskopf's 13 in 1980. McIlroy four-putted it in 2011.
2015 average: 3.12 (rank 9)
13/18 13th (Azalea), 510 yards, par five
The end of Amen Corner. Massive dogleg left with scores ranging from Jeff Maggert's albatross two in 1994 to Tommy Nakajima's 13 in 1978. Bubba Watson's enormous drive here in 2014 left him with just a sand wedge into the green to set up a birdie.
2015 average: 4.54 (rank 18)
14/18 14th (Chinese Fir), 440 yards, par four
The only hole on the course without a bunker, but three putts are common on the wickedly difficult green. Course record holder Nick Price took eight here in 1993, while Phil Mickelson holed his approach en route to 2010 victory.
2015 average: 4.08 (rank 12)
15/18 15th (Firethorn), 530 yards, par five
Often a tough decision whether to go for the green in two across the pond on the hole where Gene Sarazen sank his 235-yard four-wood shot for an albatross in 1935. There have also been three 11s here.
2015 average: 4.60 (rank 17)
16/18 16th (Redbud), 170 yards, par three
Tiger Woods' memorable chip-in in 2005 came the same year as 73-year-old Billy Casper's 14, while Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter are among 15 players to record holes-in-one.
2015 average: 3.01 (rank 13)
17/18 17th (Nandina), 440 yards, par four
The famous Eisenhower Tree has been removed after suffering storm damage, making for an easier tee shot on the hole Justin Rose double-bogeyed when one off the lead in 2007. Jack Nicklaus birdied here to take the lead as he won his 18th major in 1986.
2015 average: 4.15 (rank 7)
18/18 18th (Holly), 465 yards, par four
The drive through an avenue of trees was made much harder when the tee was moved back 60 yards in 2002. The fairway bunker from which Sandy Lyle got up and down to win in 1988 is now 300 yards away.
2015 average: 4.21 (rank 5)
“Perfect conditions. No wind. Greens were very soft. The golf course was there for the taking,” Watson said. “My game is pretty good.”
Watson revealed the secret to surviving this test and his age. “Well, old age and treachery,” he said. “I’ve played the golf course enough times to know where I’m supposed to hit it and where I’m not supposed to hit it. I struggled the last few years trying to hit shots like I used to, when I knew that I had to hit my best shot, and the ego gets involved.
“My ego got involved too much the last few years,” he said. “I want to make the cut. I haven’t done that for a few years. It’s fun to be able to at least be in red figures at Augusta National. At my age, it’s a minor miracle.”
So how is his relationship with Mickelson these days? “We just said hello and that was it.”
The outgoing US Ryder Cup captain was refusing to go quietly into the Augusta night but was rather raging against the passing of time. He equalled the score of his big-hitting partner Gary Woodland and outscored Canadian amateur Corey Conners by nine shots. Proof that brains are as good as brawn and knowledge is power.
But 56-year-old Larry Mize, the 1987 champion who chipped in at the 11th to break Greg Norman’s heart in a play-off, was showing his age with a six-over-par 78.
Victorious Ryder Cup captain Jose-Maria Olazabal was the last European to win the Masters back in 1999. The best the 49-year-old could muster was a seven-over-par 79. They respect their former champions here, but the course is no respecter of age. All of which makes Watson’s score so impressive.
The incoming European Ryder Cup captain, Darren Clarke, has one year left on his five-year invitation to the Masters for winning the 2011 Open Championship. The 46-year-old Northern Irishman is unrecognisable from those days, having been redesigned and chiselled as golf’s George Clooney with his new slimline physique and silver-fox beard. His two-over-par 74 will not be made into a movie but Clarke’s life now is more about writing the script for next year’s Ryder Cup in Minnesota than fitting his new athletic frame into a Green Jacket.
Sheffield’s 27-year-old Danny Willett may well fight his way into Clarke’s team if he continues his rise up the world rankings. The son of a preacher man matched Watson’s one-under-par 71 on his Masters debut in the company of Mize. That’s the beauty of the Masters. It’s a place where the old and the new collide on a legend’s playing field.Reuse content