AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods is the defending Masters champion.
That didn’t prevent one reporter from asking him about the possibility of serving as Augusta’s honorary starter some day, perhaps accompanied by longtime rival Phil Mickelson.
“Hopefully that will be us one day,” Woods said, adding with a smile, “and I’ll be hitting bombs past him.”
At 44, Woods still believes he has several years of competitive golf in front of him. He would like to break a tie with Sam Snead for the most career victories on the PGA Tour, and he hasn’t given up on a pair of records held by Jack Nicklaus: six Masters titles and 18 major championships overall.
Mickelson turned 50 in June and appears increasingly unlikely to add to his haul of five major titles, three of them coming at Augusta. He’s even played — and won — a couple of events on the PGA Tour Champions, hoping to build up some confidence.
Even so, Lefty is hardly ready for ceremonial golfer status.
“I mean, that’s really not on our radar right now,” Mickelson said. “If that was something we got asked to do that would be really cool.”
Nicklaus and Gary Player will hit the ceremonial shots to start this year’s Masters on Thursday. Next April, they’ll be accompanied by Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first Black golfer to play the tournament.
“I love how Lee Elder is going to be on the tee,” Mickelson said. “I think that’s really a special thing. I love how the Masters tournament, how the game of golf has really tried and worked hard to get rid of some of our exclusionary past and create a more inclusive present. I’m proud to be part of that.”
Woods has seen the honorary starter role evolve since making his first Masters appearance as an amateur in 1995.
“I had an opportunity to watch Byron Nelson and Sam Snead tee off there, and to see even Jack and Arnold (Palmer) and Gary, and now to have Lee start next year,” Woods said. “Whether it’s Phil and I down the road or whatever it may be, it’s up to the chairman. It’s an honour: You start off the Masters.”
For Irishman Shane Lowry, nothing could possibly beat winning the British Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
Or could it?
“I have a chance, it will be around here, you know what I mean?” he said on Tuesday. “Like, to be the first Irishman to ever wear the green jacket would be pretty special. That’s probably one of the only things that could top it.”
Winning the Masters is a career-defining moment for any player, but for those who have the chance to make history it adds a bit of extra meaning. After winning at Augusta in 2013 — the first Australian to do so — Adam Scott said he didn’t expect to match the feeling.
“Even if I do happen to win other big tournaments or a major, it might not quite be everything Augusta was,” Scott said. “It was such a big moment, to be the Masters and to be the first Aussie to win it. I really need to enjoy it while it has happened because it may never get bigger.”
Lowry felt much the same way after claiming his first major last year, surviving a strong wind and pelting rain to win the first Open in Northern Ireland in 68 years.
But he’d love to have something to compare it to.
“I achieved something very, very special last year,” Lowry said. “Yes, I probably won’t ever top that. But if it is, it will maybe be around here. I think to wear a green jacket would be just very, very special. You know, I think they will be on par. We’ll just wait and see.”
Tiger Woods laughed at hearing this is the 25-year anniversary of his Masters debut. That’s a lot of years and plenty of memories. Asked what stood out as his favourite memory, it wasn’t any of the five green jackets he won.
It was a practice round as an amateur. He joined Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
“At the time, I was a little punk college student, and we’re playing for some skins, and I didn’t have any cash in my pocket,” Woods said. “Arnold makes a putt on 18, takes all the skins away from us.”
Woods never disclosed how — or if — he paid up.
His day was just getting started. Palmer and Nicklaus suggested they all the play the Par 3 Contest. Woods said he was scheduled for later in the afternoon. But it was Jack and Arnold. He did what they said.
“Went over with them, went to the Par 3 Contest, and we played together, and that was awesome,” he said.
YOU CAN’T LEAVE YOUR HAT ON
It’s rare to see pro golfers without hats, which have the dual function of shielding their eyes from the sun and showing off the sponsors that pay the bills.
But Augusta National asks players to take them off when they come into the interview room. Most are happy to oblige out of respect for the hosts of one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.
“I’m sure my hair doesn’t look exactly great right now, but luckily I wear a hat for my job,” Justin Thomas said on Tuesday. “So I’ve just got to get through this press conference and I’ll be OK.”
The Associated Press