DORAL, Fla. – Everything needs proper context, and in golf from now through the second Sunday of April the only context is the Masters Tournament.
The Florida Swing will give way to a Texas two-step, and despite a pair of WGC events, the biggest players in the world already have Georgia on their minds.
"Of course it's always on your mind because it's so huge in the game of golf," said Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion. "There is such a long buildup and the anticipation from everyone – the media, players, fans – everyone."
Rarely a week goes by after New Year's Day, that golfers don't get asked questions about the Masters and the players are happy to talk about it. But things get more serious once the PGA Tour schedule shifts to Florida.
Players have already started making their pre-Masters scouting trips to Augusta National – something they don't ever do at places like PGA National, Doral's Blue Monster or the Golf Club of Houston. Defending champion Jordan Spieth spent Sunday and Monday in Augusta. Two-time champion Bubba Watson roll into town on Monday and Tuesday. Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Scott will all fly in sooner rather than later.
"The week before it's nice to go and play at least once, maybe twice so your mind can picture it clearly," Scott said. "Because there are severe undulations and stances on the fairway. It's not like hitting balls on the range. You've got to get your head around it because it's not like playing on a flat golf course."
Spieth has multiple scouting trips automatically built into his schedule.
"This is a common trip we normally make before coming down here," Spieth said at Doral. "It's the third year in a row now. I also go in December. Like to get there a couple times, get on the grounds."
Spieth reports that the conditions of the course are already more pristine than usual.
"It's even in better shape this far before the event than it has been the last couple years," he said. "The greens were very, very quick and very healthy, so I've got a feeling that they are not going to want 18-under to win again. I've got a feeling it might be playing a little more challenging this year."
The anticipation keeps growing when the best players keep producing the best golf in the months leading into the Masters. Already this season, former champions Spieth, Watson, Scott and Charl Schwartzel have won tournaments, with Mickelson coming within a missed 5-footer at Pebble Beach from making a playoff. Recent Masters contenders Rickie Fowler and Louis Oosthuizen won in Abu Dhabi and Perth, Australia. Last year's runner-up Justin Rose tipped his form with a victory Monday in the Seminole Pro-Member. Rory McIlroy has shown flashes, but was discouraged enough with his putting to make an in-season shift with his putting grip to get ready for the Masters.
Jason Day, the reigning PGA Champion who has a second and third in his Masters career, reached out to four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods to pick his brain about getting his mental toughness in Masters-ready shape.
"Every time that I talk to him, it's mindset, mental toughness, effort," Day said. "It didn't matter how bad it was. If it was a course that he did not like, he was just going to flat out-execute you. It did not matter. That's that killer instinct that I need to get back like I had at the second half of last year, get back and take it into this year and go through with it."
Every top-10 player that filed through interview room this week at Doral said that everything they are doing starting last week through the beginning of April is done with the Masters at the forefront of their thinking. They'd loved to pick off a win or two along the way as long as they peak at Augusta.
"When we leave the West Coast and come over to Florida and then in Texas, it's time to get ready for the Masters," Spieth said. "That's just me personally. The West Coast seems like its own kind of part of the schedule. ... We came into here after playing there, you get the excitement from just being and playing a couple rounds at Augusta National. And you come into really the final stretch of a few events that you kind of want to knock out everything you can in tournament play, and hopefully grab a win or two in the process, because that's the best way to prepare before heading over there."
Fowler, who may refrain from taking his usual pre-Masters trip to Augusta this time, is gearing up as well.
"I probably started thinking about it as soon as the tournament finished last year," he said of the Masters. "It's a special place. You love going back to Augusta, everything about it. But I think swing-wise and hitting shots, really probably started the week before last, before Honda. ... You have to be able to shape it both ways. You don't have to but it helps to be able to shape it both ways."
This week's WGC at Doral and the Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas, will gather marquee fields for massive purses. But as much as anyone would like to take home those trophies, this stretch of the golf calendar remains a prelude to the pursuit of a green jacket.
"There's some good tests along the way," Fowler conceded, "but part of it is making sure that you're rested up and ready to go for (Masters) week, too."
"Realistically it starts now," said Scott, whose ball-striking is already hitting peak form with a runner-up at Riviera followed by a victory last week at PGA National. "When I start in L.A., this is all now preparation for Augusta to get my game in place and get my mind set and to feel like doing everything I can for the next two months to leave no stone unturned to be prepared to win the Masters."
This article was written by Scott Michaux from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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