Record 24 newcomers spice Masters title chase
Course workers in the fog during practice round for the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 7, 2014 - by Emmanuel Dunand
"It doesn't matter if you have played here once or you have played it 50 times," American Patrick Reed said. "Whoever is playing the best golf is going to win."
Reed, who has won three PGA tournaments in the past eight months, is among the debutants who will break the old mark of 23 Masters newcomers set in 1935.
Except for Fuzzy Zoeller's 1979 win, that's also the last time a first-timer won the event. But a confident group of players are looking to change that.
"I don't see why not. I don't think it's out of the question," said American Jimmy Walker, who has three PGA wins this season.
"I'm here to play well. And I'm here to have a chance -- I want to win and I think everybody here wants to do that. So why couldn't a rookie win again?"
Tiger Woods is absent after surgery for a pinched nerve, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson are coming off injuries and Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy failed to close out wins last month, so the door seems ajar for the newcomers.
But experience is rarely more prized than at Augusta National, solving the undulating and lightning-quick greens and knowing what areas to avoid and where to hit to best set up approaches.
"If a guy has more experience it's going to give him an advantage. Experience always helps," Reed said. "But with all the young guys coming out and playing well, whoever is playing best will come out with the victory."
Day is among three players who could dethrone Woods as world number one this week although he would need to win to do so.
Defending champion Scott needs at least a share of third. Sweden's Henrik Stenson must at least share second.
"My goal is obviously to be able to get to number one, one day, and to have a green jacket, and I can do that in one week. That's exciting stuff for me," Day said.
"There has been a lot of hard work and dedication that I've put into the game for many, many years, and it could all pay off in one week.
"If it happens it happens. I'm going to give it a good shot. But stuff like that you have got to put out of your mind."
Thunderstorms on Monday allowed only two hours of practice, soaking the course.
With better weather forecast for the rest of the week, the course should change as the week goes on, adding another element to the challenge for the new faces.
"Everybody talks that you need a lot of local knowledge," Walker said. "All these guys out here, they know what they are doing. They know how to prepare.
"Then it's about getting it out of your head that this is what it is. It's the Masters, it's a major. You go out and you play golf and execute and hit your shots."
Day, an Australian who has finished runner-up twice in the US Open and finished in the top-three in the Masters on two occasions, says young players in the 21st century have a support team that was lacking before.
"Times have changed where before you wouldn't have a team around you, so you really couldn't bounce things off people to really kind of see how you're improving," Day said.
"These days, kids have a mental coach, strength coach, swing coach, maybe a short game coach. I mean, they have so many people around them that are there in place to make sure that they are improving and competing and playing well. Sometimes you're going to get nervous and it's good to talk about things and really kind of let it out.
"Kids are coming out more confident. They are coming out stronger, faster. Their game is a lot tighter and every year that goes by, they are just coming out tougher to play against."