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THE MASTERS

The Masters, past and present, is beautiful to behold

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On my right arm, just above the sleeve line (in a short-sleeve shirt) is one of my favorite tattoos. It shows the multi-color shark logo of Australian golfing legend Greg Norman. Until Tiger Woods came along, Norman held the record for the most consecutive weeks as the world’s number-one golfer, and he always electrified the course whenever he played.

Well, almost always.

Three times, he was riveting right up until the closing holes of The Masters. In 1986, Jack Nicklaus overcame him to win by 1 shot. In 1987, on the second playoff hole, Larry Mize chipped in from 50 yards to win the green jacket. And in 1996, he held a six-shot lead going into the final round and played disastrously, losing to Nick Faldo.

On that day, he showed the world what grace and dignity looks like when you’re dealt a hard loss in pursuit of a treasured prize, and in that moment, he cemented himself as my golfing hero.

Norman hasn’t been a presence at The Masters for many years, but every time it airs, someone has to bring up his collapse in 1996. It’s an unfortunate iconic memory tied to the rich history of Augusta National.

Even with Norman absent, I remain fascinated by – and fixated on – The Masters each year. And 2020 was both no different and SO different.

Normally played in April, COVID-19 led the organizers to cancel the tournament, or at least hold off. When professional golf limped back into reality – absent the galleries – organizers at Augusta decided to hold the tournament Nov. 12-15.

Watching it was both familiar and unfamiliar. Instead of the blazing bright azaleas dancing in the breeze, the fairways were lines with falling leaves and spiraling pine straw. The normally pristine sand traps were criss-crossed with pine straw that the greenskeepers couldn’t possibly keep up with.

And although in my eyes, Norman is forever the real deal, there’s no denying that Dustin Johnson put on a damned clinic in 2020. From tee to green, his performance was flawless, and his score reflected it in a record-breaking manner. He signed a 20-under card.

Going into the opening round, all the buzz was about Bryson DeChambeau, who has committed himself to being the strongest and most powerful player in the field. He’s an odd bird in the way he plays and the way he thinks, and there was some speculation he’d bring Augusta to its knees.

Turns out Augusta’s knees were taken out by Johnson.

Come April – barring more weirdness in the world – the players will return to the masterpiece built by Bobby Jones in Augusta. It’ll look more familiar, and I’m certain it will continue to mesmerize me and a few billion others watching from around the world.

Maybe Norman will make an appearance? A guy can hope.

Jess Williams is editor of The Las Cruces Bulletin. He loves golf, but he sucks at it.