Tech’s Castro back in Masters again, and we shouldn’t be surprised

There odds of Roberto Castro winning the Masters this week are long – 400-1 long. Whatever.

If there is one player on the entry list at Augusta National who is not concerned about long odds, it’s Castro. He never made it through PGA Tour qualifying school. “Didn’t even sniff it,” on his third try, he said.

He was an All-American at Georgia Tech. But in the words of Tech coach Bruce Heppler, while he’s “not surprised” Castro has made it on the Tour, “It’s not like he was Matt Kucher, where you thought, ‘Oh, he’ll make it.’”

Castro qualified for the Masters for the second time by finishing in the top 25 at the 2016 season-ending Tour Championship, which he had qualified for the first time with a strong finish on one of golf’s mini-tours. Castro likens those to the NBA’s D-League.

“Check the bottom of the rosters,” he said. “There’s guys like LeBron (James) trying to cement their legacy and there’s guys trying to get on NBA rosters.

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“The odds of me ever playing in the Masters would’ve been a million to one. So I figure if I can make it there, I can win. It’s sports. The craziest things have happened in the last few months. The election. The Cubs. The Falcons. When the Falcons lost, I was like, ‘What just happened?’ Every week, there’s been something loony happening.”

Here’s what’s not loony. Five players in the Masters field this week went to Georgia, three to Georgia Tech. The eight total from the two schools might seem extraordinary but it’s not. The two schools have been providing about 10 percent of this field for a while and Castro believes it stems from the state’s strong amateur programs and, obviously, the tradition of the Masters and Tech product Bobby Jones.

“People talk about California, Florida and Texas, but Georgia is kind of the fourth wheel,” said the 31-year-old. “I think we tend to take it for granted because we live here.”

Also not loony: Like most golfers Castro’s age or younger, Tiger Woods has become a great memory and little more.

Woods has pulled out of the Masters because of lingering back pain. He’s breaking down physically.

He has won 14 majors but none since the 2008 U.S. Open.

He has won four Masters but none since 2005.

He has won 79 PGA Tour events but none since 2013.

Castro, who spoke on a variety of subjects on the “We Never Played The Game” podcast, said Woods’ career accomplishments “make your eyes water.”

But when asked what would happen first: His first win in a major or Woods’ 15th, Castro said, “Probably the former.

“He has a lot of physical issues to overcome. And even if he does, the level of play is so high.”

Castro said today’s players respect the legend of Woods but aren’t intimidated by his presence on the golf course. “I don’t think they have a reason to be. Tiger really hasn’t played since Jordan Spieth has been a professional. So there’s no reason for Jordan to be afraid of Tiger because they’ve hardly played in the same tournament.”

This will be Castro’s second Masters. He qualified in 2014 but missed the cut after shooting 73-80 in two rounds. (Bubba Watson, one of the five former Bulldogs this week, won his second green jacket that year.)

“I think this time, it will be easier,” he said. “When I walked to the first tee in 2014, my family was there and I was thinking, ‘How is this even possible?’ This time it won’t be any less special but it will be easier.”

He has come a long way from the guy who couldn’t make it through Q school, with four top 10 finishes and 10 top-25s in 2016, with $2.52 million in earnings.

Heppler referenced Castro’s “different route” to the Tour but said, “He always found ways to improve. The way he approached it, you knew he had a chance to keep getting better.”

Maybe nobody should be surprised. Golf is in Castro’s genetics. Jenny Lidback, a former LPGA pro for 17 years, is his aunt. He had two uncles who played at LSU and his grandparents on his mother’s side were members of the Peruvian national team.

Castro was just a toddler when his grandfather took some of his old clubs and “used a pipe cutter” to cut them down to size. “He put about 30 wraps of tape on the grip. There’s tons of pictures of me barely walking, whacking balls in the backyard.”

This tournament has always been special to him. Even a practice round at Augusta National is a “stop-the-clock” moment for him.

His grandparents had a tape of one of the most memorable Masters in history, the 1986 tournament when Jack Nicklaus blazed the course with a 65 on Sunday to beat Tom Kite and Greg Norman by a stroke for his sixth green jacket.

“When I say I’ve seen it 500 times, I’m not exaggerating,” he said. “We just popped it in every day. I’ll never get on the 13th tee and not think of Seve (Ballesteros). He roasted his drive. … It’s crazy to me that I’ve ever played Augusta one time, let alone played in the Masters.”

So he might as well try to win it.

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