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The Masters - Golf: What makes Augusta so special?

With 50 days until the start of the 2022 US Masters, the excitement is already building as the Green Jacket battle draws closer.

Hideki Matsuyama claimed the spoils in 2021, overcoming a late wobble to win by a stroke from Will Zalatoris, and the Japanese is 25/1 to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to successfully retain the title.

There will be plenty of players in the field for this year's edition that will be dreaming of having that coveted Green Jacket slipped onto their shoulders, none more so than Rory McIlroy who only needs the Masters crown to complete the Grand Slam.

Dustin Johnson is aiming for his second win, having triumphed in 2020, while Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas are just three more of the names that will be hoping to have a big say this year.

As the excitement and anticipation builds ahead of the first round of the 2022 US Masters on 7th April, just what is it about this tournament that makes it so special?

Long history

The first Masters took place in 1934 when Horton Smith claimed the spoils before Gene Sarazen picked up the victory the following year, beating Craig Wood in a Monday playoff.

Over the years, the likes of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods have all come out on top in Georgia. They are just some of the names that are etched into the history books, and who wouldn't want to try and join that elite list of players by triumphing at Augusta National?

Same venue

While the three other major championships change venues every year, the Masters is the only one of the 'big four' that is played at the same course. Augusta National has been the host from 1934 to this very day and there is something about this course that just encapsulates those playing and the spectators.

The greens are meticulously maintained, providing a true surface that demands the very best from those wielding the putter, while some of the most famous holes in golf are on this course.

Amen Corner, which is made up of the 11th, 12th and 13th holes, is regarded as one of the hardest stretches in golf and one that can often decide the fate of the winner. Just ask Jordan Spieth how difficult this run of holes is. The American, who was leading by five strokes heading into the back nine in 2016, hit two balls into the water at the par-3 12th, carding a quadruple-bogey, and he would end the tournament in a tie for second.

You would think, with the talented players that head to Augusta, that playing at the same venue every year would get a little boring and that the field would be able to find a way to tame the course. However, Augusta has stood the test of time and it continues to catch out the world's leading players, with some huge collapses seen over the years.

Northern Irishman McIlroy capitulated in 2011, Greg Norman had a meltdown in 1996, while Francesco Molinari inexplicably found the water on the 12th and 15th holes to slip out of the lead in 2019. One thing that the Masters brings is drama and this has been shown on numerous occasions over the years, making it one of the most special events on the calendar.

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Par-3 fun

While golf can sometimes be accused of living in the past, the traditions at the Masters have stood the test of time and they are something which everyone can look forward to. The Par-3 contest, first introduced in 1960, continues to this day and it offers a chance for the players to relax ahead of Thursday's opening round.

Played on a nine-hole course, with a par of 27, this provides an element of fun and there have been no less than 94 hole-in-ones witnessed in the history of the contest, Family members and friends are usually used as caddies, and they often get the chance to have a swing during the round.

The fact the event was televised for the first time in 2008 and continues to be done to this day shows just how popular it has become. Beware any professional that ends up winning this event and the crystal bowl that comes with it, though, as no player has gone on to win the Masters after triumphing in the par-3 contest.

Memorable moments

While some catastrophic collapses have made for huge drama, the brilliance of certain individuals over the years has also brought about huge excitement, and watching such masterclasses unfold, in the heat of the moment, makes for fantastic viewing.

Just take the legendary Tiger Woods for example and his incredible chip on the 16th hole at the 2005 Masters. After shoving his tee shot on the par-3 16th long, the American produced a sensational chip-in to make an unlikely birdie before then going on to beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
 
In 2011, Charl Schwartzel birdied his final four holes to end up winning the Green Jacket by two shots, a superb finish when it looked like the South African was out of the running. A year earlier, Phil Mickelson produced a stunning shot from the trees at the par-five 13th to set up a birdie, having looked in danger of dropping a shot on that hole. The US star would go on to win the tournament by three strokes from Lee Westwood.

These are just some of the amazing moments that have been seen at the Masters and there is just something about this major, about Augusta National, that brings out the very best and worst in the players, providing ecstasy and agony every year.

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