AUGUSTA, Ga., April 4— The 71st playing of golf's first major will answer a wide variety of questions. But even before Arnold Palmer hits the much anticipated ceremonial first shot, we can safely assume the following:
1. A short hitter will not win. If the cold-but-dry forecast is correct, the Masters will be played without a rain delay for the first time since 1997. Still, despite the dry weather, Augusta National is playing to all of its 7,445 yards.
"There's a lot more grass on the fairways this year, and I think they've been watering them," said Scott Gneiser, who caddies for David Toms. "We hit a drive on 5 right up the gut and splat! We saw water fly up from the tee."
The 2006 U.S. Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy, said: "I think they're watering them because it hasn't rained that much."
Jerry Kelly agreed. "Are they ever," he said. "I'm getting one, two yards of roll on my driver, and it's kind of killing me."
Alas, the greens are not being watered, so short hitters have little or no chance of holding them with long-iron and fairway-wood approach shots.
2. We will not see a repeat of 2005, when Tiger Woods beat Chris DiMarco in sudden death. Two reasons: DiMarco is not long enough for the course the way it's playing right now, and he's been fighting a shoulder injury.
3. A 50-something will make a valiant run. With age comes wisdom, and knowing the course counts for a lot here. Ben Crenshaw made headlines when he shot 71-72 Thursday and Friday last year to advance to the weekend. (He finished 47th.)
This year's Champions Tour newsmaker could be Fred Funk, Craig Stadler, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller or Bernhard Langer. (Oops. Langer's only 49.)
"You're talking about a real lottery there," Crenshaw said. "Throw eight balls in the air with our names on them."
4. A 40-something will have a chance to win on Sunday. Vijay Singh, 44, has looked very good this year — winning twice — and has finished out of the top 10 at Augusta just once since winning the 2000 Masters.
Jose Maria Olazabal, 41, missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open last week, but he's won twice here. When he was last seen at Augusta, he was shooting a final-round 66 to tie for 3rd in 2006.
Fred Couples, 47, has made 22 straight cuts at Augusta (a record) and tied for third last year. But he's fighting a bad back that's limited him to two starts this year, at the FBR Open (Cut) and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (WD). His caddie Joe LaCava has been working for Davis Love III this year.
Couples has been getting treatments from energy healer and massage therapist Jim Weathers underneath the locker room this week in hopes of recovering in time to at least play, if not extend the streak. In a potentially good omen, he shot 3-under in the par-3 contest Wednesday.
5. Angel Cabrera will make a surprise appearance on the leaderboard. The crazy-long Cabrera of Argentina has hung around the lead in four of the last six years. He is also riding momentum from last week's Shell Houston Open, where he shot 69-67 on the weekend.
6. The course will get little press. After a decade of radical changes since Woods won his first Masters in 1997, the National has changed little since last year. Pine straw has replaced the grass under the grove of trees that dot the right side of the 11th fairway. The first cut is a bit tighter on a few holes, like the 8th. That's about it.
7. Someone's chances will implode quickly, thanks to the 240-yard, par-3 4th hole, "Flowering Crab Apple." It's the third hardest hole, with its length, deceptive winds and the fact that anything behind the green is dead.
No, check that. Someone's chances will implode quickly thanks to the 455-yard, par-4 5th hole, with its small, sloppy green. It's the fifth hardest hole at Augusta.
8. As goes Tiger, so go the Scottsdale two. Aaron Baddeley, a trendy darkhorse pick by both yours truly and Sports Illustrated's unnamed Tour pro, professed to be thrilled to be grouped with Woods at 1:52 p.m. Thursday.
"It's perfect," Baddeley said. "If you'd asked me before the tournament the one guy I'd like to play with, I'd have said Tiger. He's a gentleman and the best player in the world. Why wouldn't you want to play with him?"
Be that as it may, how Woods plays will most likely dictate the fate of the Arizona residents Baddeley and Paul Casey, the other member of the threesome.
"Sometimes you ride the coattails of the guy you're playing with," said Gneiser, Toms's caddie, and no player's slipstream is tougher to resist than Woods.
9. Someone will lose his mind. Remember when Jesper Parnevik showed up to Augusta but accidentally left his golf clubs back home in Jupiter, Florida? Tiger Woods bailed him out (by bringing Parnevik's clubs on Woods's private plane), but the fact remains that the aura and pressure of Augusta are enough to induce at least one big brain cramp.
As Geoff Ogilvy was walking to the range before Wednesday's par-3 contest, a writer noticed he was sporting black Pumas and not the gold shoes he'd planned to wear.
"I left them at home and didn't have time to go back and get them," Ogilvy said sheepishly. "How bad is that? I'll be wearing them quite a bit the rest of the week, though."
10. Ian Poulter will dress the loudest. Not that he lacks competition. Doug (Peacock) Sanders has been ambling around the grounds, dressed in canary yellow head-to-toe earlier in the week and in fire-hydrant red Wednesday. Richie Ramsay, the U.S. Amateur champ from Scotland, wore traffic-cone-orange pants Wednesday. Darren Clarke is likely to wear all manner of hues.
Poulter's outfit Wednesday: White slacks with a single red stripe down each leg, red-and-white saddle shoes, a red shirt and a dandy red fedora. Yeah, baby! The winner and still champion …