SPORT

Stage all set for Woods

Augusta Masters round the corner

AUGUSTA: During the first full week of April, there is history on the wind here, whistling through the pines and stirring the blood.

Though it blows somewhat hotter this year, it has been a rite of spring for more than seven decades, ever since the man then acknowledged as the World’s greatest golfer, Bobby Jones, laid the foundation for what has become the Masters — the tournament that signals the beginning of golf’s major-championship season.

For this one week, all roads lead here, to a prim Deep South garden city of about 200,000 on the Georgia-South Carolina border. Churches outnumber saloons by a 10-1 margin, but it is the near-religious zeal for golf that sells out every hotel room for 20 miles around and inspires thousands of pilgrims from all over the World to trek to Augusta National Golf Club, golf’s Cathedral in the Pines.

A quest

The fervour for this year’s Masters will exceed its usual fever pitch because Tiger Woods is embarking on his stated quest for the first leg of the Grand Slam. The Masters has a well-earned reputation for attracting the most knowledgeable golf fans of any event in the U.S., and many would no doubt be able to point out several of the reasons it would be smart not to dismiss Woods’s chances. Some of them were probably seated in their usual spot next to the 18th green in 1972, the last and only other time a golfer came into the Masters with the stated purpose of making it his first step on the road to the Grand Slam. That would have been Jack Nicklaus, the man Woods, 32, is chasing across history. What Nicklaus, 32 at the time, said two weeks before the Masters was similar to Woods’s statement before this year that winning the Grand Slam “is entirely within reason.” — AP

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