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Last-minute thoughts on the Par 3 Contest, Rory's late tee time, and the worst Augusta comeback

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Rory McIlroy and caddie Caroline Wozniacki at the Masters Par 3 Contest on Wednesday. With crowds so close and the greens so small, the chance of a fan getting hit with a wayward shot is pretty high.

AUGUSTA, Ga.—The Masters smells like spring.

Don’t underestimate that as one of the reasons for this tournament’s fabled aura and mystique. A bunch of Northerners show up here, frost still on their backs, and are hit by the sun’s sudden warmth and the sweet scents of exotic flora mixing in the air like caramel and ice cream in a blender.

I stood in the shade right of the first fairway, just behind the scoreboard at the bottom of the hill, and basked in a lilac-like aroma that danced in the breeze. A horticulturist would know where it came from. I didn’t recognize the trees—they had smooth, almost shiny bark, and craggly arms that mostly grew skyward. The first hole is called Tea Olive and since holes here are named after some piece of foliage growing on the hole, I’m going to guess these were Tea Olive trees and that’s what produced the scent. Unless it was some wisteria vines growing among them.

It smelled good, is what I’m trying to say. It smelled beautiful. It smelled like spring. I’d just come from Minneapolis, where spring is farther in arrears than Greece. I landed there Friday and within 90 minutes, a snow squall began. Almost no golf courses were open or, worse, looked like they were even close to thinking about opening. There were still snow piles in parking lots, spots of snow in the shade or in low-lying bunkers. Cabin fever was virulent.

Not here. The warm breeze might as well have been the breath of life. The Masters has always been a sign of spring and a renewal of an old tradition that is comforting. It’s a promise of warmth to come. In places such St. Paul and Pittsburgh and La Crosse and Northfield, that’s a promise not taken lightly right now.

Augusta National is sunny. It’s warm. It smells like Bath & Body Works -- better, actually. Wish you were here.

In other Masters-related ramblings:

One multiple major champion once told me he was far more nervous in Wednesday’s Par-3 contest than he ever was on the first tee Thursday morning. Why? Because the fans crowd around the greens right to the edge of the putting surfaces and the greens are very small targets, not much bigger than coffee tables. “You know you’re going to hit people,” he told me…

Arnold Palmer dropped one into the gallery right of the first green in the contest Wednesday, then playing partners Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player put shots onto the green…

Whoever finishes 13th this week is going to be ticked off. Chairman Billy Payne announced that only the top 12 Masters finishers will earn invites back next year. Previously, it had been the top 16. Also, only the top four finishers from the U.S. Open will earn Masters spots, down from eight. The reductions are to make room for the winners of the fall events on the revised PGA Tour schedule. The best part about the change? Payne referred to events that received “full points” and never actually said the words, “FedEx” or “FedEx Cup.” In a matter that may be unrelated, there’s a shipping station next to the merchandise shop so fans can ship their purchases home instead of having to lug them along. It’s run by UPS…

Payne also announced the Masters is involved in the Drive, Pitch and Putt contest, an initiative to inspire kids to play golf. Once again, however, punters are discriminated against…

At one point Wednesday, the nearest-to-the-hole leaders included Nathaniel Crosby (24 inches at the sixth) and Dick Siderowf (38.3 inches at the fifth). Crosby is a former U.S. Amateur champ and Siderowf a British Amateur champ. This is the only place you’ll ever see their names on a leaderboard. Past major winners, amateur and professional, are among the honorary invitees this week and welcome to play the par 3 and hang out…

Rain and thunderstorms are expected to arrive at some point later Thursday and into Thursday night. Some speculated that Rory McIlroy may therefore be disadvantaged by his 1:41 p.m. tee time in the next-to-last threesome. But if the storms were strong enough to postpone play, he might return the next morning to softened greens and no wind so it could turn out to be an advantage. You never know…

Anybody remember who last year’s 36-hole and 54-hole leaders were? Didn’t think so. Fred Couples and Jason Dufner shared the lead after two rounds. Peter Hanson led after three rounds…

A new rule announced by Payne that the cut will be made after 36 holes to the top 50 players and ties (instead of the top 44) and players within ten strokes of the lead may not make that much difference. A total of 63 players competed on the weekend last year before the change…

For Masters aficionados, the fried chicken sandwich (a piece of actual fried chicken, with a slightly spicy breading, on a bun) was the ultimate concession stand food of choice. The pimento cheese sandwich was always overrated. Well, the fried chicken sandwich was replaced last year by a healthier chicken wrap. Failed experiment. The fried chicken sandwich is back this year, sort of, but it’s a disgrace. The new fried chicken sandwich is a circular, reconstituted chicken patty with some light breading. It’s nothing like the original Masters chicken sandwich. It’s awful. Beaks will roll over this outrage.

 

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