2005: Editorial - Champions Thursday

It was an extraordinary Masters, on several counts.

Tiger Woods’ sizzling third round and playoff victory over the resilient Chris DiMarco certainly tops the list.

The spat between Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh over spike marks allegedly left by Mickelson was a Champions Locker Room scene unlike anything witnessed at Augusta National.

The confusion surrounding third-round starting times and pairings was comically out of character for the Masters, widely regarded as the most efficiently run tournament in golf.

Most unseemly were the circumstances surrounding 1970 champion Billy Casper’s farewell appearance. Word among those “in the know” was that Casper and other past champions were being paid $20,000 each in exchange for putting a certain equipment manufacturer’s driver, irons and golf ball in play. The so-called tee-it-up money was offered, the story went, to increase the company’s chances of winning the iron usage count for the season’s first major championship (which it did).

Casper, who had not been a Masters contestant since 2001, toured the National in 105 strokes and chose not to turn in his scorecard.

The equipment ploy was nothing new; past champions have been used to pad Darrell Survey numbers at previous Masters.

In any case, the episode underscores why Augusta National needs to rethink the participation of older, non-contending past champions in the official competition.

No less of a Masters luminary than six-time champion winner Jack Nicklaus believes it is time for a change.

“This is not a celebrity walk-around,” says Nicklaus. “It’s a major golf championship.”

Nicklaus suggested “it would be nice to have an event on Tuesday or Wednesday. . . . Let them play from a tee they can play from . . . nothing special, no prizes, no nothing.”

We agree with Nicklaus’ premise, if not the details.

Such an event might best be staged on Thursday, when the grounds are populated with longtime patrons rather than practice-round lottery winners. A 8 a.m. start on No. 10, featuring nine holes of better-ball competition from forward tees – or maybe a skins game – would allow the past greats to tread through Amen Corner and conclude at the storied 18th, just about the time players in the tournament proper are beginning to start off No. 1. A trailing grounds crew would have plenty of time to cut the greens and change hole locations.

There would be no losers. Loyal fans could watch and mingle with their heroes, who in turn would have the opportunity to walk the hallowed grounds for as many years as they desired. The Masters competition would be unaffected. Equipment companies wouldn’t be tempted to woo past champions for marketing purposes. Older players would have opportunities to make birdies.

Best of all, the Masters would continue to uphold the unique tradition that tournament winners earn the right to compete at Augusta National for life.

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