By now, even the green jackets who run the Masters should have given up, though historically they’ve found that almost as difficult to do as raise the price of a pimento cheese sandwich.
The tournament is missing something this year, as anyone who glanced at a TV screen Thursday could see. But let’s at least agree on what to call them, even if ESPN’s announcers are forbidden under penalty of never again setting foot on the grounds of Augusta National to use the word.
Here’s a hint: They’re not patrons.
No, the Masters is missing fans and, if the opening round was any indication, missing them badly. On every shot and at every turn Thursday we were reminded of it. And if that wasn’t enough ESPN ran a promotional spot that tried to assure us this was still the Masters, even without them.
As the music soared in the background, we saw clips of great Masters moments from the past, with a promise this year would be just as special.
“Greatness realized without thunderous applause is no less great,” the announcer solemnly intoned.
That may yet turn out to be true but on this day there were no great moments to applaud, even at home. There wasn’t even a chance to watch half the field complete their rounds, thanks to the short days of fall and a rain delay that will jumble up the week even more.
Yes, Tiger Woods played surprisingly well, not making a bogey on his way to a 68. Larry Mize did OK, too, for a 62-year-old who wouldn’t be allowed to compete with today’s stars anywhere else.
And Paul Casey managed to not only shoot a 65 to take the early lead, but somehow find inspiration where other players couldn’t.
“It still has a buzz to it,” Casey said about the tournament. “There’s an energy and a little bit of a vibe. Yes, it’s clearly a lot less than what we are used to but there’s something about this place that … I felt excited to be here.’’
So, apparently, did Woods, who was last seen at Augusta National as deafening roars washed over the 18th green last year celebrating his win for the ages. Woods matched his best opening score in a Masters, serving notice that he could be a factor on the weekend.
And if the fans weren’t there to watch, the drones were.
“There was a drone flying over the putting green. Down one (fairway) you could hear the drone over there. You don’t hear drones here,” Woods said. “There’s no patrons, no roars. That’s very different. A lot of firsts today.’’
Holding a Masters just before Thanksgiving never seemed right to begin with, though the pandemic left the green jackets with little choice. They could have canceled the tournament but figured that golf fans would embrace Augusta National in the fall even if they had to do it remotely.
And the bottom line is they’ll still give out a green jacket on Sunday, though it will be earlier in the day than usual because CBS has NFL commitments. Years from now this year’s champion probably won’t even be asked about the unusual circumstances behind his win.
There’s also the added bonus for golf fans watching on TV of seeing parts of Augusta National they knew nothing about because of the crush of people usually on the course. They could see where billionaires walk, even if they’ll likely never walk there themselves.
Indeed, Augusta National looked beautiful in all its naked glory. It’s a spectacular piece of land with a hallowed place in golf history and should be appreciated as such.
Take away the tee shot at No. 12 or the second at 15, though, and this might as well be the Safeway Open. Fans matter at Augusta National, it turns out, and they matter a lot.
“It kind of feels like a round with your friends,” former champion Mike Weir said. “You know it’s a tournament and you have the tournament energy, but it’s a completely different feel. Part of this tournament, what makes it so special is the patrons and the roars. Of course, we’re not there yet. Hopefully, in April they’ll be able to get back.’’
April is still five months away. There’s plenty of time for the roars to come back, assuming that by then spectators are allowed to come back.
For now, though, it just doesn’t seem like the Masters for most watching at home until they turn the volume up on the TV.
Outside of the opera, it’s the only place they hear anyone talking about patrons.
A Masters without fans is missing patrons, too