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Dogwoods and azaleas at Augusta National clear sign spring is near

By Ron Borges
Published on

 
BOSTON – Today the azaleas and dogwood are in bloom. Just not around here.
 
Here, the blooming snowblower resurfaced for one last hurrah. In New England, it's "a tradition like no other," just like the Masters.
 
Normally this morning, I'd be strolling up Magnolia Lane or sipping a lemonade on the veranda of the clubhouse at Augusta National Golf Club, which just happens to be the finest venue in sports. I'd be walking among the dogwoods and the azaleas because today is the best day of the year to watch golf. At least if you're at Augusta.
 
Today is the day to sit atop the bleachers at Amen Corner, the sun baking your face with three indescribably beautiful golf holes laid out in front of you as one after another of the greatest players in the world hit, chase and hit again. When it comes to golf, those three things are all they have in common with the rest of us.
 
We also hit, chase and hit again. We just don't hit it as far, and we chase the ball to places PGA Tour golfers seldom visit. They end up in the pine straw. The rest of us end up in the piney woods.
 
This year's 80th Masters will be without both Tiger Woods and the mortal version, known as Eldrick. They are one and the same except when swinging golf clubs, which neither can do yet after three back surgeries turned Tiger into Eldrick and then Eldrick into a spectator.
 
Because little had been heard from Woods for months, some in the golf world held out hope he might resurface at Augusta after his long absence, rising like the phoenix. But he recently announced on his website he would attend the Champions Dinner but is not fit to play competitive golf.
 
This is the first time I've missed the Masters in a decade. It's the second time in three years for Tiger. He'll be far more missed than I, and rightly so as my colleague Karen Guregian handles the honors. Hopefully she will find time to visit the veranda, the dogwoods and the azaleas, and not just write about the golfers because it's all part of the experience. What won't be is Woods, who somehow seems long gone and far away.
 
He hasn't won a major in eight years, missed the cut in his past three and just turned 40. Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships seems safe from Tiger's long-threatened assault, that number having loomed larger than Woods expected after he got stuck on 14 eight years ago.
 
In his first 46 majors, Woods had 14 wins and 22 top-three finishes. Only once did he miss the cut. In his past 24, there's been role reversal. He hasn't won, has only two top-three finishes and missed the cut six times. He said recently there's "no timetable to return to competition." If you saw him staggering around St. Andrews at last year's British Open, you already knew that.
 
Woods has been gone so long, frankly, his absence is not much noticed any more. It's expected, like the flowering dogwoods and blooming azalea bushes at Augusta.
 
The latter herald the return of spring for golfers, even those with frigid fingers clutching a snow shovel. So when the field of 89 begins play Thursday there will be no shortage of storylines even though Woods is gone.
 
Can young Jordan Spieth, who has looked a tad human thus far this season, become only the second golfer in the past 25 years to repeat? If he does, he'd join (who else) Tiger.
 
Can young Rory McIlroy finally win at Augusta and become only the sixth golfer in history to complete the career Grand Slam by winning all four majors? Last to do it? (Who else?) Tiger.
 
Can Bubba Watson win for the third straight time on an even year? Can Rickie Fowler or world No. 1 Jason Day win the green jacket for the first time? Same question looms for a guy the calendar is working against, 40-year-old Henrik Stenson, who has finished in the top four seven times at a major without ever leaving on top.
 
And what will the fates hold for Dustin Johnson, who not only finds ways to lose major championships when victory seems assured but does it in ways that are head-scratching?
 
Already McIlroy had a moment, holing a 7-iron from 170 yards at the par-3 16th on Monday for an ace. Was that a warning that he's primed, or just a moment that had the gallery roaring as if it was Sunday afternoon among the dogwoods with Jack and Arnie battling it out around Amen Corner?
 
We have no way of knowing, so we'll watch to see what unfolds.
 
But we'll watch for another reason, too. If you spend any time chasing golf balls, even ones you need GPS to find, you'll watch to be reminded by the presence of those dogwoods and azaleas that even we won't need that snow shovel much longer.
 
This article was written by Ron Borges from Boston Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
 

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