AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Mark O’Meara is reminded every year of the momentousness of winning the Masters.
O’Meara was on practice green Sunday at the Augusta National, 25 years from his birdie-birdie finish to win his first major. Now 66, he only plays occasionally with the PGA Tour Champions. But he remains part of Masters Week.
And he has company, young and old.
Bernhard Langer was also on the putting green. They were with a half-dozen kids who were barely in their teens, getting ready for the drive, chip and putt finals.
There was no sign that the first major of the year had arrived.
“It never gets old,” O’Meara said. “I feel blessed. I feel privileged. I don’t play the tournament anymore but I still come and enjoy what the Masters tournament is all about.”
Ultimately, it’s about a green jacket that will be presented in seven days.
What makes this Sunday so unusual is that the stage for the Masters is just a private club. Augusta National started 2014 with drive, chip and putt. Five years later, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was added.
Rose Zhang won the fourth edition on Saturday in a playoff. The next day she was under the oak tree by the clubhouse and a kid called out, “There’s Rose Zhang!”
An hour earlier, former Masters champion Jordan Spieth started a practice session with his brother Steve, who played basketball at Brown. Only in the afternoon did Tiger Woods arrive, the five-time champion and star of the show, even in a year shared by Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
Woods briefly visited the range with Masters Chairman Fred Ridley before hitting the course, quiet as the course will be throughout the week.
Spieth, O’Meara and defending champion Scottie Scheffler were among the Masters champions who presented awards to the various age divisions for boys and girls who won the driving, chipping and putting events as well as the overall winners.
All of this took place as Masters champions Gary Player, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Fred Couples made their way to the putting green and then to the first tee.
It was a trip back in time, and even O’Meara felt it that way.
He looked at the top of the clubhouse at Crow’s Nest, where amateurs stay, and remembered being there in 1980 as the US amateur champion. He played the opening round that year with Fuzzy Zoeller. O’Meara gestured to the left – that’s where Zoeller was sitting on the bench.
“I shot my straight 80,” he said. “I was terrible compared to the kids of today.”
Player won his first Masters in 1961. This could be an uncomfortable week for Player, who is one of only five men to win a career Grand Slam. In an interview with the Times of London, he criticized Augusta National for finding it difficult to play a practice round “without having to beg a member to play with us”.
“I played my part. I won it three times,” said Player. “Without the players, it would be just another golf course in Georgia. It’s just sad – and I love the word ‘sad’ – that Augusta (not) makes you feel welcome in that regard because I’ve helped make this tournament what it is .”
The player is expected to hit the ceremonial tee shot to start the tournament on Thursday. He also takes part in the par 3 tournament on Wednesday. And of course there is the Masters Club Champions Dinner on Tuesday, a highlight for everyone who has already won a green jacket.
In all of this activity, players from LIV Golf were absent, not because they are not welcome, but because they have a tournament in Florida this week. Bubba Watson is one of LIV’s former champions who usually help distribute the drive, chip and putt trophies.
Another special feature of this year’s Masters was that EA Sports presented its first golf video game in more than 10 years. The press building was cleared for a contest attended by Tony Finau, country singer Eric Church and Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
O’Meara was soon headed to the first tee for a practice round. He’ll be there all week with a few company dinners in the back.
Playing the course on the eve of Masters week felt like a treat for a 66-year-old. The highlight of the week is Tuesday for dinner.
“The only people in the room are guys who won,” he said. “I’m a small part of it. But to be a part of it is amazing.”
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