THERE are four so-called major tournaments in men's golf, the Masters, the United States Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. As the first in this annual cycle, the Masters serves as the sport's unofficial ``Opening Day'' - at least to casual fans, who may not pay attention to golf's year-round calendar of events. The 58th Masters began yesterday at the famed Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., which has hosted the tournament since its inception. After today's second round, the field will be cut nearly in half in preparation for the final rounds on Saturday and Sunday. What follows is a viewer's guide:
Sat., April 9 (CBS 3:30-6:00 p.m., EDT), third-round action. Sun., April 10 (CBS 4:00-7:00 p.m., EDT), final-round action.
No more beautiful setting exists in golf. Because the course is closed during the summer, the staff has most of the year to prepare it for the Masters, which helps explain the impeccable green look. Then, too, the whispering Georgia pines and the blooming azaleas add to the postcard atmosphere. The galleries not only enjoy the scenic splendor, but also the mounding and terracing that allows for good spectating vantage points.
Bob Jones, a great player during the 1920s, purchased 365 acres in Augusta, Ga., in 1930 and set about building a course the next year that he hoped would stand out from the others of its day. A native of Atlanta, he had friends who played winter golf in Augusta and joined him in the venture. A private club was formed. In 1934, the first Masters tournament was held. Horton Smith won the inaugural competition by one shot.
Augusta National, as one of the crown jewels of golf-course architecture, has no doubt inspired many imitators around the world. Some experts, however, wonder about the course's value as a role model. The T.L.C. lavished on Augusta is unsurpassed, yet many courses struggle to emulate its emerald beauty. In this way, the course may be a ``bad influence,'' to quote one observer, who says the patrons at some clubs want ``to spend too much money and want the course too green. A brown course can play about as well as a green one.''
* The Masters is the only one of the four major tournaments that is always played on the same course.
* The club insists on keeping the tournament and course free of commercialism. Even at the concession stands, the green cups and sandwich wrappers come sans advertising.
* The galleries are among the most astute and well-mannered in golf.
* Amateurs who make the field are paired with past champions in the opening rounds, giving some young men the thrill of striding down the fairway with a Nicklaus or Palmer.
The Masters is a 72-hole medal-play event, meaning that the best total score wins. After the first two rounds, the field is ``cut'' or reduced to those with the 44 lowest scores, plus those within 10 strokes of the leader. If two or more players are tied for the lead at the end of 72 holes, a sudden-death playoff begins immediately. The first player to win a hole wins the title. (There have been five such playoffs since 1979, when the format was first utilized.)
Playability of the course
On the surface, Augusta National looks relatively tame. It is not long. There is little rough, only a modest number of bunkers, no water on the front nine, no ``blind'' or hidden-from-sight greens, plus fairways so lush it's sometimes hard to know where they end and the greens begin. In all, it's a pretty friendly course for the average golfer.
So where is the challenge for experts? In an article written before the 1940 Masters, O. B. Keeler attempted to answer this question. Among the factors he cites are the fast greens that make it difficult to get approach putts to ``die'' near the pin; the par 5's that invite long-hitters to get ``home'' in two shots; fairways that are never ``baked out'' and consequently don't provide an abnormally long roll; a layout that requires practically every type of shot; and the sheer mental pressure of trying to win one of golf's most prestigious tournaments.
Unlike events on the regular PGA Tour, in which players earn their way onto a circuit via qualifying ``schools,'' the Masters requires an invitation. The atmosphere is that of an exclusive fraternity of proven winners.
Invitations are extended on the basis of 13 criteria, starting with lifetime entry for past Masters champions and ending with the top 30 money winners from the final 1993 tour list. Each year, the field includes about 85 to 90 entrants.
Most familiar face
That has to belong to Sam Snead, who played in the Masters 44 times between 1937 and 1983.
Coveted tournament passes are hard to come by. Most don't change hands from year to year; in fact, some have been held by the same individuals for decades. The best chance for the average fan to get onto the course is during the practice rounds and a one-day par-3 tournament held right before the Masters begins.
Jack Nicklaus and Ray Floyd have turned in the best 72-hole totals in the four-day tournament. In winning the 1965 Masters, Nicklaus shot a 17-under-par 271; Floyd equaled the feat during his 1976 triumph. Interestingly, Nicklaus's 9-shot victory margin over Floyd in '65 is the largest in tournament history.
In 1956, Jack Burke Jr. erased an 8-stroke deficit on the final day to overtake amateur Ken Venturi for the championship. Burke's winning score of 289 is the highest in tournament history.
Jack Nicklaus stands alone in having won six times, most recently in 1986, when he trailed leader Seve Ballesteros by four strokes with four holes left to play and parlayed an eagle-birdie-birdie run into a dramatic victorious finish.
Arnold Palmer achieved much of his fame at Augusta, winning four Masters in the space of seven years, beginning in 1958.
The only other players to win more than twice are three-time champions Gary Player, Jimmy Demaret, and Sam Snead.
In addition to a trophy and a winner's check, the new champion dons a green blazer supplied by the host club. The televised presentation is made in the clubhouse, immediately following the tournament. The club president conducts what has the feel of a fireside chat. The amount paid to the winner, by the way, often isn't announced until the final day. Last year it was $306,000.
Most famous shot
The most legendary shot in all of golf probably belongs to Gene Sarazen, who scored a double eagle (three under par) at the par-5 15th hole during the 1935 tournament. Sarazen holed his fairway shot from 220 yards out during the final round to tie Craig Wood. He went on to win in a playoff round.
The highest score on a single hole is 13, which has been recorded twice. Tom Weiskopf, a CBS commentator for the Masters, was undone on the 12th hole in 1980 and Tsuneyuki Nakajima on the 13th in 1978. Both are water holes (Rae's Creek swallowed Weikopf's shots) and part of a three-hole section of the course known as Amen Corner.
In a terrible turnabout in 1972, defending champion Charles Coody followed a hole-in-one with a triple bogey on the next hole.
Longest made putt
Nick Faldo rolled in a 100-footer that traveled diagonally across the second green in 1989. His bull's-eye came at the beginning of the third round and was a momentum builder during his first Masters triumph.
Foreign entrants have been a fixture at the Masters. The largest foreign legion appeared in 1962, when 29 players from 13 other countries competed.
South Africa's Gary Player became the first foreign player to win the Masters in 1961. He went on to win twice more, in 1974 and 1978.
The list of past champions reads like a who's who of golfing greats. Even so, some lesser knowns are sprinkled in, among them Charles Coody and Larry Mize.
Coody won the 1971 Masters and nearly won the year before, but fell out of the lead after bogeying the last three holes. Mize, who was born in Augusta, won in 1987 when he holed a 140-foot chip shot on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros.
Best amateur finishes
No amateur has ever won the Masters, but three have finished second or tied for second: Frank Stranahan (1947), Ken Venturi (1956), and Charles Coe (1961). Four amateurs qualified for this year's field.
German Bernhard Langer won his second Masters title by four strokes. Zimbabwe's Nick Price, a pretournament favorite, had a disastrous 81 during the second round and missed the ``cut.'' Several giants of the game excited the gallery. Arnold Palmer started off with three birdies, Jack Nicklaus shared the lead after the opening round, and Tom Watson birdied the last five holes on Sunday.
1993 Bernhard Langer
1992 Fred Couples
1991 Ian Woosnam
1990 Nick Faldo
1989 Nick Faldo
1988 Sandy Lyle
1987 Larry Mize
1986 Jack Nicklaus
1985 Bernhard Langer
1984 Ben Crenshaw
1994 tour money leaders (through April 3)
1. Greg Norman $566,333
2. Fuzzy Zoelle* $466,693
3. John Huston $411,359
4. Jeff Maggert $397,968
5. Loren Roberts $377,313
6. Andrew Magee $336,355
7. Corey Pavin $324,625
8. Davis Love III $324,572
9. Phil Mickelson $315,845
10. Ben Crenshaw $296,467
* Much of the factual material in this report was culled from tournament records compiled by Masters statistician Bill Inglish of Oklahoma City.