A return to a Masters as it’s supposed to be - almost

After 2020's November compromise to COVID, the Augusta National Women's Amateur - and the azaleas - are back for a Masters week in April.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
After 2020's November compromise to COVID, the Augusta National Women's Amateur - and the azaleas - are back for a Masters week in April. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

AUGUSTA - There it is, another reassuring road marker on the long trip back to “normalcy.” Get off I-20 at Washington Road and head a little bit south. Keep going past the Jiffy Lube, the Curry Hut and the Hooters.

You’re real close when commerce begins to surrender its grasp and gives way to sudden large gaps in the strip mall landscape. These urban crop circles were cut by far richer folk. They use them for parking guests one week a year. And as a buffer the rest of the time between themselves and the world where they don’t speak in reverent whispers and where the grass grows defiantly in clumps rather than in acres of almost overbearingly perfect green.

There it is, Augusta National Golf Club. Although the signage is wanting, this is the place we’ve been looking for. This week, within its borders so heavily guarded by man and pine, they will get back to the business of a Masters in its right season.

A Masters almost – but not quite – the way it is supposed to be.

Look, azalea and dogwood in bloom. Not just flowers this year, they are the glad tidings of a golf tournament – and to some minor extent, a world – getting back to its proper timetable again.

There will be witnesses on the grounds once more, unlike the hollow setting during that November pandemic make-up date. Not in the numbers that usually make the golfing hajj to Augusta, but better than nothing and no one. Because what is the point of such beauty if there is no one there to appreciate the view?

This advance guard in the march back to pre-pandemic days still will have to wear their masks. Signs at the entrance will tell them to keep their seats six feet apart, and to not leave them unattended as in the past.

We have not quite yet returned to days when there is comfort in numbers. There still are no stands erected around the usual greens, no call to sit hip-to-hip while watching dimpled darts thrown at the hole. The khaki-clad mass that constructed the background music for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and even Patrick Reed will be a good deal lighter for the winner this time. Those on hand will just have to try harder Sunday.

Players sense it, they feel the comforting shift in tide back to a normal routine that this year’s first major signals.

I think this one feels almost like a normal Masters,” said 2015 champion Jordan Spieth. “I kind of forgot that we didn’t play it last April and I kind of looked at last November as just a bonus, like a bonus Masters.

“I think once you start seeing crowds in the practice rounds like other years, it will start to almost again feel like November was just the odd man out. And it will feel like just a normal Masters.”

That November Masters was an incongruity wrapped in disorientation. It was trying to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” in July or listen to Muddy Waters with the sound turned way down – acceptable, maybe even entertaining, but just off and a little strained.

With his symmetrical 20 under in 2020, Dustin Johnson won five months ago in record fashion. If typical spring conditions are in play this week, that number should be safe.

Jon Rahm, the world’s No. 3-ranked player who finished T-7 in November, recently spoke of just what a competitive outlier that Masters was.

Playing a practice round with a Masters first-timer that week, Rahm issued a warning.

“I pretty much told him anything you learn today, this week, forget about it because it will never play like this again, period,” Rahm recalled.

“It just didn’t play the same. It was much easier off the tee because the ball was just plugging in the fairway. Chipping around the greens and putting, it was just slower, a little softer. It wasn’t the same, not even close to being the same.”

Testified the champion Johnson, “November, the greens were soft, so you could be a lot more aggressive with longer clubs because they would stop and then hold the green. One of the guys I was playing with hit a 3-wood to the back left pin on 15 and it landed right next to the hole and stopped to like a couple feet. That’s just a shot that in April, unless we just get tons of rain, that’s not possible.”

The forecast for the week does not call for any rain by the ton. The Masters is perfectly free to be the Masters again.

And we might reacquaint ourselves with all the possibilities that come along with springtime in Augusta. Those that are particularly dear now.

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