The 78th Masters golf tournament is set to tee off this Thursday, April 10th and play out through Sunday, April 13. The biggest story this year is that four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods will miss the event for the first time since 1994. Woods is recovering from recent surgery to relieve a pinched nerve in his back. But the field of 96 players is still stacked with talent. Back to defend his 2013 title is Australia’s Adam Scott, who broke though to win his first major golf tournament in a playoff last year. A healthy Phil Mickelson, who since 2000 has finished in the top 5 in every even-numbered year, will compete for a fourth green jacket. Rory McIlroy, currently ranked 7th in the world, is also poised for a run at the sans-Tiger title.
Woods’ absence will be felt across the board by the golf world. According to Bloomberg, Vegas sportsbooks expect Masters betting to be down as much as 20%. Also, reports Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ, one of the largest online aggregators of event tickets, the 4 day badge price dropped from $4050 to $3752 in the day following Tiger’s announcement that he would miss the tournament. TV ratings will almost certainly drop for this year’s Masters as well. But the show must go on.
There will still be plenty to root for this year at Augusta National Golf Club. For some real rooting interest betting fans can put their money where their mouth is. Online gaming site vegasinsiders.com lists McIlroy and Scott as the favorites to win at 10-1 odds. You can bet on everything from the scores of individual players on the first hole to whether the tournament will be won by a right-handed or left-handed player. If you’re really a long-odds type of fan you can pick a player and bet on whether he makes a hole-in-one during the tournament or not. A $100 bet wins you $10,000 from bovada.com.
Also worth watching are the new kids at Augusta National. This year’s field features 23 players making their first appearance at the Masters. The best known is probably youngster Jordan Spieth, last year’s PGA Tour rookie of the year. There’s also current season 2-time winner Patrick Reed. And keep an eye on Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, who nearly won the WGC match play event earlier this year with a couple of par-saving Houdini trick shots from the desert.
After undergoing major changes to lengthen the golf course, Augusta National is, for the most part, unchanged this time around. Missing will be the infamous “Eisenhower Tree” from the 17th fairway. The tree, named for former President Dwight Eisenhower because of his outspoken disdain for it’s location, had to be removed because of damage done during a recent ice storm. Speaking of ice, the greens will no doubt be slick and fast as usual with speeds measuring as fast as 14 on the Stimpmeter. Tour greens roll on the average from 10 to 12 ½ feet. Augusta National, as a whole, historically plays as one of the more difficult courses on Tour depending on the conditions. The winner is typically -8 to -12 to par but in 2006 Zach Johnson won at +1 in particularly windy and cold conditions.
So even without Tiger Woods, there are plenty of storylines to follow. There’s plenty of history to be made. And there’s plenty to root for. Tune in to CBS this week and listen to the dulcet sounds of CBS announcer Jim Nantz as he guides us through the blooming azeleas on the 78th quest for the coveted green jacket.