AUGUSTA, Ga. - Pimento cheese perfection. A color wheel of spring. Loads of golf fans ascending to the grab the check mark on their bucket list.
Welcome to Masters Week.
Few places in the world set a stage as bright as Augusta National Golf Club, and now in my ninth year covering the tournament, the stage only gets brighter with each passing year.
Sure, this year has its voids – it’s the first Masters Tournament since the passing of Arnold Palmer, so we won’t get to see the legend sit by the clubhouse and order a ‘Mr. Palmer’ as he called it – a perfect blend of tea and lemonade.
Tiger Woods will also miss this year’s tournament as the four-time champion deals with ongoing ailments, his record-breaking win 20 years ago more a history lesson than a hurdle.
Still, the 2017 Masters brings plenty of intrigue. Here are five things that make this week special.
5: Phil vs. Father Time
At 46 years old, Mickelson would be the oldest Masters champion ever if he slips into green on Sunday, besting Jack Nicklaus’ win in ‘86 by several months. In his 25th appearance, the three-time winner is an annual threat at Augusta National.
Mickelson spent Tuesday playing a practice round with 22-year-old Jon Rahm, describing to the Masters rookie his tree-splitting second shot on the 13th hole in 2010, a shot that led him to his most recent Masters win.
4: Watch out for the Weather
Wednesday at the Masters is supposed to be the ‘fun’ day – roaring hole-in-ones, golfer’s kids, wives and girlfriends subbing as caddies. Georgia weather, however, might beg to differ, as rain is expected on Wednesday, followed by howling wind on Thursday and Friday, with gusts that could reach up to 30 mph.
“The weather is going to come in and that’s going to magnify the misses for a lot of players,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “If you continue to miss in the wrong spot and it gets worse, you’re going to make a lot of bogeys, doubles or worse, and that’s something I’m going to try to use my knowledge and skill to try to avoid.”
3: Can DJ do it?
I was walking behind Dustin Johnson in 2015 as he led the Masters on Saturday afternoon. Then his game quickly imploded, ultimately settling for a T-6 finish after his chances of winning were gone.
He looked nervous and shaken.
Now, his 2016 U.S. Open win has the world’s top-ranked player on a wave of momentum. He’s the betting favorite and likely the most talented golfer on the course.
“Some of my losses in the majors, I try to take everything positive out of it and learn from it and do better the next time,” Johnson said Tuesday.
If he contends again, his nerves will get another shot.
2: The brand-new Masters press arena
Admittedly, this is selfish. Find pictures on the Internet now.
This state-of-the-art building is nestled at the end of the players’ driving range (I don’t think Bubba Watson can hit the glass windows looking toward the range, but I’m not entirely sure.) It’s extravagant yet traditional, a massively beautiful blend of authenticity and technology.
If less Masters articles come out this week, it’s only because there are many more food options for media members.
1: The Spieth factor
He’s the most consistent player in recent Augusta-lore, finishing second, first and then second again in his first three starts. Jordan Spieth’s five-stroke lead with nine holes remaining made the 2016 Masters violently swerve from a back-to-back coronation to a mind-boggling debacle.
“This place has an interesting and incredible place in my life,” Spieth said Tuesday of Augusta National.
This weekend, he’ll step onto the 12th tee at Amen Corner, the same hole that waterlogged two balls and ruined his chances a year ago.
Tuesday, we got a preview, albeit not with the same pressure. In the practice round, Spieth hit his tee shot 10” away from the hole.
“I could have used that shot 12 months ago,” Spieth yelled to the roaring crowd.
If he’s in contention, it will be the must-watch event.
You can follow Vince’s Masters coverage in real time on Twitter @vincejohnson.