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    High Finishes at the Masters Are Becoming Familiar to First-Year Players

    Will Zalatoris, who finished second at the Masters, one stroke behind the winner, is only the latest first-year player to contend for a green jacket.AUGUSTA, Ga. — As an undergraduate at Wake Forest, Will Zalatoris received an invitation familiar to members of the golf team: Come play at Augusta National Golf Club. When he did in 2017, he recalled recently, he stood on the bridge straddling Rae’s Creek and gazed around Amen Corner.He has now crossed the bridge at No. 12 again and again, and at his father’s urging, he has looked back each time. But on Sunday, in the final round of his inaugural appearance at the Masters, the walk was as a 24-year-old contender for the winner’s green jacket — and as the latest embodiment of how one of golf’s grandest spectacles has become more favorable to its first-time entrants.Zalatoris faltered by the narrowest of margins on Sunday as Hideki Matsuyama putted into history for a one-stroke victory to become the first Asian-born player to win the Masters. But Zalatoris became the first Masters rookie since 1982 to stand alone in second place, a slot most frequently filled across the generations by more experienced players, including those bearing surnames like Nicklaus and Mickelson and Woods.What was once a rarity at a tournament that began in 1934 is often feeling like the norm. Until 2011, a player in his Masters debut had placed second in the tournament, alone or in a tie, just five times. Since then, it has happened five more times, including in the 2020 and 2021 tournaments.Zalatoris started the day with consecutive birdies to try to gain on the eventual champion, Hideki Matsuyama.Doug Mills/The New York TimesThe 42-year legend of Fuzzy Zoeller, the last player to win the tournament on his first attempt, will linger among Augusta National’s hills and pines for at least another year. But a wrinkle for the sport and its future is that golf’s newest names are consistently proving hugely formidable at the most venerated of American tournaments, one where experience is deeply prized and jitters can attack even those players with plenty of it.His age notwithstanding, Zalatoris has been preparing for years: He told his parents on Saturday that he had a memory from over the years of every hole at Augusta National, from misery-inducing No. 5 to the hole in one factory, relatively speaking, that No. 16 can be. His craving to play well at Augusta National — his sense that he could play well at Augusta National — could be at least partly traced to Tiger Woods, the five-time winner who was absent this year.“He’s our trendsetter for the game,” Zalatoris said. “I think that’s part of the reason why so many kids come out early, is we saw him be fearless at a young age and we come out and play fearless. And then on top of that, we were interested in watching the tournament year in, year out.”There could be other reasons, too, for the surge in fortunes among players in their debut. In 2017, Phil Mickelson proffered that Augusta National’s greens, which were particularly vicious this tournament, had become more amenable for first-time players, perhaps easing their path toward the top of the leaderboard.Zalatoris acknowledged the crowd as he left the course.Doug Mills/The New York Times“The course has been lengthened, and the greens aren’t the only defense,” Mickelson, who first won a Masters title on his 12th try, said then. “What that allows you to do is miss it in a spot that normally would be bad but get away with it because the greens are more receptive. I think that that allows players who have not played here many times, who maybe put it in the wrong spots, but are able to recover because the greens will receive shots that they didn’t use to receive.”Still, an admirable finish in a player’s first year does not promise imminent success at Augusta.Sungjae Im, for instance, missed the cut this year after being one of the runners-up in 2020. Jason Day, the second-place finisher in 2011, still has not won the tournament, just like most of the first-timers who finished second at the Masters. Adam Scott, who earned a ninth-place tie in his first outing in 2002, did not crack the top 10 again until 2011.“The first year I played here I knew nothing really, and I finished ninth,” Scott, who won the Masters in 2013, said last week. “And then I just started finding out where all the trouble was the years after that. It took me a while, and I really didn’t play good tee to green until about 2010, which was nine years in, and kind of got my confidence back over the next couple years.”Then again, Jordan Spieth, who finished three strokes behind Matsuyama for a tie for third in this year’s tournament, won on his second try. He marveled over Zalatoris.Jordan Spieth started shaky but ended up in a tie for third in the tournament. Doug Mills/The New York Times“Having seen him progress and his confidence level just continue to progress over the last year and a half, I’m not surprised,” Spieth said Sunday. “It is very difficult this weekend to come out in the position he was in in the final group on Saturday and to — it’s just a different feeling. Then in this wind, to control his high ball flight and to make putts on these greens when you don’t see other greens like this, especially in windy conditions, I thought it’s extremely impressive.”At sunset on Sunday, Zalatoris was mulling his 279 shots over the tournament, contemplating which ones he could have done better — “that’s just golf every single week” — but was nonetheless relishing a small spot in history. He earned a standing ovation as he approached the green at No. 18 after a day of glancing at every leaderboard he could.“I just took as many mental images in my mind because I’ve watched this tournament for as long as I can remember,” he said, “and the fact that I was a part of it is pretty special, and the fact that I contended is even cooler.”There is, after all, next year.“I know if I keep doing what I’m doing,” he said, “I’m going to have a really good chance in the future.”By then, though, there could be another first-year player climbing the leaderboard. More

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    Hideki Matsuyama Charges Into the Lead at the Masters

    After a 78 minute rain delay the golf course was far more forgiving with significantly slower greens, and Matsuyama will head into Sunday’s final round 11-under par.AUGUSTA, Ga. — The third round of the Masters tournament began Saturday with a gusting wind that bedeviled the field and seemed to make the firm, already crusty Augusta National Golf Club greens more parched, speedy and vexing.Then, just before 4 p.m., a rainstorm with the potential for thunder and lightning sent the golfers scurrying to the safety of the clubhouse. After a 78 minute suspension of play, players returned to a golf course that was far more forgiving with dampened, significantly slower greens. The wind had all but disappeared.Sensing the reprieve, many in the field attacked.Leading the charge was Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who shot a sparkling 65 by playing his final eight holes in six under par. At 11 under par for the tournament, Matsuyama, 29, will take an authoritative four-shot lead into Sunday’s final round. Four golfers are tied for second: second-round leader Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman and Masters rookie Will Zalatoris.If Matsuyama, the 2017 P.G.A. Tour rookie of the year and a runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters, can retain his lead on Sunday, he will become the first Asian to win the Masters. He is the first Japanese player to hold the lead at the end of any Masters round.Hideki Matsuyama watched his chip shot on the 18th green.Doug Mills/The New York TimesMatsuyama said he felt relaxed during the weather delay because the last shot he hit before the suspension of play — a drive off the 11th tee — was his worst swing of the round.“I thought I can’t hit anything worse than that,” he said through an interpreter. “Maybe it relieved some of the pressure. I did hit it well after the delay.”That is an understatement. Matsuyama, who is ranked 25th in the world, put on a superlative display of ball striking that may someday make up much of the highlight reel of the 2021 Masters.Matsuyama began Saturday with six successive pars and caught Rose with a birdie on the seventh hole. Then he poured it on, beginning with his approach to the elusive 11th green that resulted in a converted 12-foot birdie putt. Matsuyama’s tee shot to the tricky par-3 12th settled only eight feet from the hole for another birdie. After three successive pars, Matsuyama eagled the par-5 15th hole when his second shot — a towering, precise 5-iron — landed four feet from the flagstick. His birdie putt on the par-3 16th was even closer, which Matsuyama banged home confidently. The 17th hole was more of the same after two exceedingly accurate shots from the tee and the fairway.Hideki Matsuyama, left, and Xander Schauffele both made eagles on the 15th hole.Doug Mills/The New York TimesThe most nervous moment Matsuyama had on the back nine was when he flew his second shot 20 yards over the 18th green, but a nifty bump-and-run pitch left a tap-in par putt.After the rainstorm, Matsuyama conceded he, “hit practically every shot exactly like I wanted to do.”If Matsuyama wins on Sunday, it would be the second victory for a Japanese golfer on the grounds in the last eight days. On Apr. 3, 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani, who is from Okayama, Japan, won this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament.“It was fantastic,” Matsuyama said of Kajitani’s victory. “I hope I can follow in her shoes and make Japan proud.”Matsuyama had seven P.G.A. Tour and European Tour victories from 2014 to 2017. He said there were a variety of reasons he has been winless for the last few years, but noted that this year he began traveling with a Japanese coach, Hidenori Mezawa, which he called a “great benefit.”“Things that I was feeling in my swing, I could talk to him about that, and he gives me good feedback,” Matsuyama said. “It’s like having a mirror for my swing. Hopefully now it’s all starting to come together.”A weather warning went out and play was suspended as severe thunderstorms approached.Doug Mills/The New York TimesJordan Spieth waited to putt on the 18th green as inclement weather passed over Augusta National Golf Club.Doug Mills/The New York TimesBefore the weather delay, most of the second-round leaders played inconsistently or downright struggled. Rose, who began Saturday with a one-stroke lead at seven under par, opened with consecutive birdies on the first two holes but then had successive bogeys on the fourth and fifth holes. Rose rallied to shoot even par the rest of the way. Brian Harman, who trailed Rose by one stroke to begin his round, slumped to a 74 that left him at four under par for the tournament.The most roller coaster outing was turned in by Jordan Spieth, who in the second round had moved to within two strokes of Rose. On the seventh hole on Saturday, Spieth sent his approach shot over the green then flubbed a chip shot and hit an overly aggressive bunker shot that led to a double bogey. He was in even worse trouble on the next hole when his tee shot was so far left it appeared he was almost replaying the seventh. Buried in the woods, Spieth lofted an iron shot over a tall stand of pine trees that landed three feet from the eighth hole for an easy birdie. A chip-in birdie on the 10th hole followed, as did an eagle at the 15th, but those successes were offset by the earlier setbacks, and Spieth concluded with a round of 72, trailing Matsuyama by six shots.Zalatoris seemed the most at ease as the third round began with a string of pars and a nifty birdie on the par-4 third hole. But Zalatoris, 24, did not appear to adjust well to the slower green speeds after the rainstorm, and missed several birdie putt attempts on the back nine to shoot 71.Justin Rose and Will Zalatoris are two of four golfers tied for second place headed into Sunday.Doug Mills/The New York TimesCorey Conners, with a hole in one on the sixth hole, made the biggest early move up the leaderboard on Saturday to finish at six-under-par, just behind the gaggle tied for second.Schauffele, who was grouped with Matsuyama, shot an impressive 68 and still had time to exchange repartee in Japanese with his playing partner. Schauffele’s maternal grandparents lived in Japan and he said he has picked up some of the language.Or as Matsuyama said of his conversation with Schauffele: “We didn’t get a chance to talk a lot, but when we did, we exchanged some good Japanese jokes and had a good laugh.”Matsuyama and Schauffele are paired together again for Sunday’s final round, and are scheduled to tee off at 2:40 p.m. Eastern time. More

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    A Hole in One Pushes Corey Conners Up the Masters Leaderboard

    The shot by the Canadian golfer was the sixth hole in one on No. 6 in tournament history.AUGUSTA, Ga. — The old man working near No. 2 knew. He had to have known, because everyone knew.The roar on Saturday afternoon had all the hallmarks of a classic moment being made at the Masters Tournament: the sharp lift of noise as something sensational unfolded somewhere on the 345 acres, the percussion when the possible became a certainty, and then the fading echoes among the pines.“Which hole?” the man asked.The answer, it turned out, was the sixth, where Corey Conners had picked up a pair of strokes with a hole in one, the sixth there in the history of the tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. His tee shot with an eight-iron, coming right after a bogey, had landed just beyond the bunker. The ball took three bounces, each one smaller than the last. Then physics took over in a week when Augusta’s greens have been compared to glass.It took perhaps four seconds for the ball to enter the cup from the time it struck the green — so fast that Conners had scarcely moved in the tee box. He raised his arms in exultation. He leaned backward and pumped his right fist. He accepted congratulations from Collin Morikawa, his partner for the day.“It didn’t seem like the wind was helping as much as I anticipated, but, fortunately, it flew far enough,” Conners, who entered Saturday at two under par on the tournament, said afterward. “I was trying to fly it somewhere over the bunker and get it to go in, get it to go close to the hole.”“I think I hit the pin with a little bit of steam,” he added, “but it was right in the middle, so pretty special moment.”He finished Saturday with a 68, four under par, and will be in contention when the tournament holds its final round on Sunday, thanks in no small part to his star turn on No. 6.“Every shot makes a big difference,” said Charles Coody, who won the Masters in 1971 and used a five-iron for a hole in one on No. 6 the following year. “He’s been playing well of late, so I’m quite sure he’ll have a good chance.”Augusta National’s No. 16 surrenders far more holes in one than any other on the course, and it gave up one on Thursday to Tommy Fleetwood. But the sixth hole has seen more than any spot but the 16th.“It’s fairly level over there when you’re hitting from the tee and everything,” Coody said of the sixth hole on Saturday, when he watched the tournament on television. “You’re hitting into just a little of the upslope, which helps you hold the green a little better.”Conners, a 29-year-old Canadian with a single P.G.A. Tour victory to his name, has had, like so many golfers, a complicated relationship with Augusta National. In his first appearance, in 2015, he missed the cut but showed promise: a first-round 80, a second-round 69. Four years later, he tied for 46th after a misery-filled final round. In November, when the pandemic-delayed Masters was played, he scored a 65 in the second round, crucial to tying for 10th in the end.This year’s conditions were far different.“It’s got a lot more speed to it,” he said of the course on Tuesday. “The greens are rolling quicker. Had to adjust some of the notes in my book to play a lot more break in the greens, and certain spots around the green where you maybe had a chance in November, you don’t have much of a chance right now.”He had just finished a practice round with Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters winner and the only son of Canada ever to win one of golf’s major tournaments. Weir regaled Conners with tales of victory — and offered a few tips, one of the traditions of the Masters.But on Saturday, the afternoon after the cut, Weir was no longer in the field. It was Conners’s turn to stir a roar. More

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    Scenes from the First Rounds of the Masters

    AUGUSTA, Ga. — Maybe it is the Masters tournament’s place as an annual rite of spring or its rich history, revisited this week for an 85th time. Perhaps it is because the tournament is the only major golf championship contested on the same golf course every year, which breeds a comforting familiarity. But the Masters stands out among sporting events — for its colorful grounds, for its gentle mix of old and new champions, and for the generations of attending families renewing traditions on the site. It is the rare athletic arena in the spotlight for only four days a year, but then maybe that is its ultimate charm.The Augusta National golf course was created on a former nursery, which contributes to its parkland aura, especially as the property was cultivated over several decades. Watching on television, it is hard to grasp how much the topography affects the competition and the viewing pleasure of attending fans as the hilly terrain naturally creates amphitheater-like viewing areas. It also heightens the challenge for the golfers, who traverse a compound full of intrinsic challenges, including a drop of 175 feet from the highest point on the property (the famed old-style clubhouse) to the lowest point (the devilish, small par-3 12th green).Framing the golf holes are 100-foot loblolly pine trees, flowering dogwoods and hundreds of flourishing azalea bushes. Add the brilliant white sand of Augusta National Golf Club’s bunkers and its manicured green fairways, and the setting has become one of the most distinctive and recognizable venues in American sports. — Bill PenningtonGroundskeepers watering the fairway on the second hole last week before a practice round.Cleaning a dining area for club members.Lee Elder, who in 1975 was the first Black man to play in the Masters, shook hands with Jack Nicklaus during a ceremony for the honorary starters at the first tee on Thursday.Running is usually not allowed at Augusta, but an exception can be made in some cases.Jordan Spieth’s ball skipped across the water on the 16th hole during a practice round.Dustin Johnson, the defending Masters champion, during the practice round on Wednesday. He missed the cut for this year’s final rounds.The azaleas are in full bloom around the 16th green.A dejected Justin Rose on the fourth tee during the second round on Friday.Bryson DeChambeau reflected in Phil Mickelson’s sunglasses at the 10th tee during a practice round on Wednesday.Spectators watching Spieth’s tee shot on the sixth hole.Spieth, foreground, and Collin Morikawa on the sixth green during the second round on Friday. Spieth shot four under par for the day. More

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    Rose Holds Slim Masters Lead as Johnson Misses the Cut

    After shooting a 75 on Friday, Dustin Johnson, who won the Masters in November, became the latest defending champion not to advance into the weekend.AUGUSTA, Ga. — To most every player at the Masters Tournament, the 530-yard, water-guarded hole called Firethorn is a back-nine destination for earning back a stroke. To Bernd Wiesberger, that hole, No. 15 at Augusta National Golf Club, can teeter toward the nightmarish.In November, it dealt him a double bogey. On Thursday, his putt for eagle rolled and rolled and rolled across some of the firmest greens in Masters memory before it slipped clear into the drink. And so there Wiesberger stood on Friday, having gained four shots before coming upon the pine-lined nemesis that had left him “a little bit too excited” a day earlier.His first shot on Friday went 305 yards and landed in the rough. The second vaulted his ball beyond the tree canopy. The third moved him onto the green, positioning Wiesberger for a 6-foot putt that, mercifully, did not have him aiming toward water. Birdie.“I’ve been playing really solid golf yesterday and today, obviously,” said Wiesberger, an Austrian whose second-round six-under-par 66 matched Tony Finau for the day’s best score and by sundown had him in a six-way tie for sixth place that also included Finau. “Just today, I kept the mistakes off the card.”But there were plenty of other shots that went wayward elsewhere on the course as the cut, set for the second consecutive year at the lowest 50 scores plus ties, loomed.Dustin Johnson, the 2020 champion, struggled with his putting and, at five over par across two days, failed to move into Saturday’s third round. Rory McIlroy, who arrived at Augusta National in search of the Masters victory he needs to complete a career Grand Slam, logged a double bogey at No. 10 and did not advance. Brooks Koepka, who is ranked No. 14 in the world, faltered and did not make the cut, nor did Sungjae Im, who finished second in November’s tournament, which organizers had postponed from April because of the coronavirus pandemic.Johnson leaning to inspect the 15th green, where his ball went into the water.Doug Mills/The New York TimesAugusta National played far differently back then, offering players a soft course on which 43 golfers finished below par and Johnson won at 20 under, a tournament record. The grounds have proved far more vicious this week, with one player after the next declaring the greens — famously fast and firm — more perilous than they had ever seen them.Not that Augusta National was concerned. “We have the golf course where we want it,” its chairman, Fred S. Ridley, said this week.Justin Rose, who entered Friday with a four-stroke lead, remained atop the field after shooting a 72. But his advantage narrowed to a single shot on a day when he had three fewer birdies than in his opening round and doubled, to four, the number of bogeys.“I think it was just a classic day at Augusta National when you’re slightly off,” Rose said. “You can be a foot or two out on certain occasions and you end up struggling.”Will Zalatoris chipping to the ninth green.Doug Mills/The New York TimesWill Zalatoris, who is aiming to become the first person to win his Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller did it in 1979, birdied the final three holes to climb into second place, a shot behind Rose and alongside Brian Harman, who made birdie on No. 18 when his second shot rolled downward and set up a 10-foot putt that had just enough power.Marc Leishman and Jordan Spieth were tied in fourth place, while Cameron Champ, Si Woo Kim, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas joined Finau and Wiesberger in sixth. (Augusta National said Friday evening that Matthew Wolff, who was not in contention, had been disqualified after he submitted a scorecard with an inaccurate tally for No. 17.)Finau’s six-stroke swing into the tournament’s upper ranks began early in his round, when he sized up the second hole, a par-5 that, at 575 yards, is the longest on the course. He was 8 feet from the pin after a pair of strokes. His putt slid right, tracing a crescent on its way toward an eagle.With the predicted rain looking less likely before the start of Saturday’s round, Finau professed himself unbothered by the conditions that had thrilled and terrified others.Tony Finau after making a birdie on the sixth hole.Doug Mills/The New York Times“I really like the conditions fast and firm,” said Finau, who finished in a tie for fifth at the 2019 Masters, his best showing at Augusta National. “With my ball flight, I think it’s a big advantage. I put plenty of spin on it. I enjoy the golf course the way it’s playing — I guess I wouldn’t say enjoy, but I think it’s a good setup for me.”Johnson was another story: a defending champion who three-putted six times in two days, but whose demise this week was not quite sealed until late in his Friday round. His second shot on Friday at No. 15, the hole that had so frustrated Wiesberger, wound up in the water and fueled a bogey there. Two holes later, his second shot lifted him onto the green — before a pair of putts streaked past the pin. Adding to the turmoil, his first putt fell short on No. 18.“I don’t know,” he said afterward. “I just didn’t have a good beat on the speed the last two days.”He will still be at the club this weekend, of course, to drape the green jacket on someone else. It has happened recently: Johnson became the third reigning winner to miss the cut in five years, after Danny Willett and Sergio García stumbled.“I like this golf course,” Johnson said after his round. “I feel like I play it very well. I just didn’t putt very good. It’s pretty simple.” More

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    Jordan Spieth Had a Very Good Day at the Masters

    A crowd favorite, all eyes were on Spieth as he charged up the leaderboard and put himself in contention with a confident second round.AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jordan Spieth was walking down the 17th hole at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday when a voice from the crowd lining the fairway cried out, “Welcome back!”Spieth turned his head in the direction of the sound, but it appeared as if he didn’t hear it clearly.The salute was repeated, only louder: “Welcome back!”And this time Spieth waved and looked over his shoulder with a smile and a grateful expression that seemed to say: It’s good to be back.It has been seven years since Spieth arrived at his first Masters as a 20-year-old less than three years out of high school. Back then, he played with flushed cheeks and a hop in his step that sent a jolt of youthful vitality through the typically middle-aged Masters galleries. When he took a two-shot lead through seven holes in the final round of the 2014 tournament, Spieth appeared to be on the verge of becoming the youngest major golf championship winner in 83 years.When he tied for second instead, the Augusta National fans were no less smitten. A year later, at the 2015 Masters, he became only the fifth champion to have the lead after all four rounds.On Friday, as Spieth vaulted up the Masters leaderboard with a four-under-par 68 that moved him to five under par and left him two strokes behind Justin Rose, the second-round leader, it was clear that his fans had not forsaken him. Spieth, a three-time major champion, may have not won a tournament from 2017 until last week’s Texas Valero Open, but at Augusta they have been eagerly awaiting his rebound.The number of spectators at this year’s tournament is limited, although there are still several thousand on the grounds, and the biggest throng by far on Friday was following Spieth. It did not hurt that his junior golf friend of nearly 15 years, Justin Thomas, was playing one group ahead of him, which sometimes made possible the viewing of two popular players at adjacent holes.But a round of major championship golf always has a beating heart to it, a core where the energy is focused. For nearly 25 years, if Tiger Woods was in the field, the dynamism always followed him. In Woods’s absence, at least this week, the Masters crowds are longing for the continuation of Spieth’s recent comeback, which has included several promising results in the last six weeks.Asked if he noticed the extra attention of the fans on Friday, Spieth, who is tied for fourth, made a joke about how he finished in more obscurity on Thursday. In the last group of the first round, he finished as the sun was setting.“It was such a slow round that I think people decided not only to have dinner but maybe go to bed by the time we finished,” he said with a snicker.But Spieth, 27, is modest enough not to openly acknowledge that he had a cheering, enthusiastic following. At best, he conceded: “Yeah, we had a lot of people last week, and so maybe — I mean, I didn’t feel that it was any more than yesterday.”Spieth’s appeal is no doubt tied to his past successes at a young age and an unassuming public image, but sports fans also love a comeback story, and Spieth’s fall had grown precipitous. After the 2020 Masters, which was only five months ago, his world golf ranking had dipped to No. 80. He has rallied to 38th, and it has much to do with the same things that made him a brilliant player from 2014 through 2017: his putting and short game.The crowd cheered Spieth on throughout his excellent second round.Doug Mills/The New York TimesOn Friday, Spieth’s move up the leaderboard began with a 7-foot birdie putt on the devilish 10th green that moved him to two-under for his round. He nearly birdied the 11th hole after a brilliant approach shot, then bogeyed the treacherous par-3 12th hole, which had been his nemesis in past Masters.Spieth’s tee shot at the roughly 155-yard 12th caught the upper lip of the bunker protecting the front of the green, making the shot three feet from perfect, and it trundled back in the sand. Spieth’s blast from the bunker left him a short par putt that he missed. He quickly snatched the ball from the cup and tossed it in Rae’s Creek alongside the green.Why blame the golf ball?“I was upset at the hole,” Spieth said. “If any body of water is there I’m going to throw it in the body of water and change to a new golf ball. There’s no fans out there, no kid to throw the ball to or anything like that. I don’t want to look at that golf ball anymore, so it goes into the water.”Any golfer could relate.But the setback at the 12th hole spurred Spieth, who birdied the 13th and 15th holes, both par 5s, and the daunting par-4 17th hole.Afterward, Spieth was asked if he was peaking for a major, as Woods so often did.He shook his head.“Mine feels like steady progress,” Spieth said. “I wish that it felt like everything has been leading up to peaking here, but I’m just trying to have things get 5 percent better than they were last week.”That seemed good enough for now. With a grin, he added: “There’s more good swings than there was a month ago, and there were more than there was a month before that.”For another day at the Masters, Spieth was back, and welcomed back. More

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    The Sandwich Economics of the Masters and Augusta National

    Experts say $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches are not just about hospitality. Instead, they are a low-cost way to cultivate one of the biggest brands in American sports.AUGUSTA, Ga. — José María Olazábal hit a tee shot at Augusta National Golf Club’s 12th hole one day this week, jokingly bowed to the spectators and meandered toward the green of one of the great holes in golf.Much of the gallery swiftly headed toward one of the great bargains in sports: the Amen Corner concession stand, where fans at the Masters can come by a meal — sandwich, soft drink and a cookie — for as little as $5.The famously controlling club has spent decades accepting that it cannot, in fact, control the weather. But economic forces surrounding the tournament are well within reason, and so the price of a pimento cheese sandwich has stood at $1.50 since 2003. Adjusted for inflation, and assuming the sandwich was appropriately priced to begin with, it should be about $2.14.Economists believe the enduring bargain, at odds with an era of sticker-shock prices at many athletic events, is not merely a matter of Southern hospitality. Instead, they see hard-nosed, soft-power genius: a thrifty way to cultivate the mystique that has helped make the Masters brand one of the most valuable in sports.“They want to take you back to the days of Bobby Jones — the good old days, if you will,” said John A. List, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, referring to Augusta National’s co-founder. “They haven’t followed prices, and they’re understanding that their real bottom line is over years. I think they purposefully don’t follow inflation and economics, and that makes the message even stronger.”“Economically,” said List, who attended the Masters in 2019, “I actually thought it was brilliant.”A patron carried her haul of Masters merchandise.Doug Mills/The New York TimesWhile Augusta National may be the most celebrated site of cheap concessions, it also may offer broader lessons for the sports industry. Georgia, with its moderate cost of living and high-wattage sporting events, has emerged as something of a case study. About 145 miles to the west, the Atlanta Falcons cut prices in half a few years ago when they moved into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The franchise, cognizant that most of the money in the N.F.L. flows from media rights agreements and ticket sales, basked in positive news coverage and, ultimately, more spending by fans.The concept has slowly spread throughout sports. The Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers and Charlotte Hornets, among other professional teams, have rolled out their own so-called fan-friendly concession pricing initiatives, which have helped draw spectators into stadiums earlier and encouraged others to attend in the first place.At Augusta National, trimming the cost of a pimento cheese by 50 cents, to $1, would be a throwback to the presidency of George Bush — the first one. The club, which wraps its sandwiches in green packaging that blends in with the course, is unlikely to go in the other direction and sharply raise prices, which would mean abandoning the strategy it has long cloaked in the language of gentility and wholesomeness.“We want the experience to not only be the best but to be affordable,” Billy Payne, who spent 11 years as the club’s chairman, said in 2007. “We take certain things very, very seriously — like the cost of a pimento cheese sandwich is just as important as how high the second cut is going to be.”Fred S. Ridley, Payne’s successor, similarly said that Augusta National’s goal is to provide food “at a reasonable price.”Patrons took a lunch break near the 11th hole.Doug Mills/The New York TimesRidley said the low cost “just sort of adds to the feeling” for the sandwiches, though he declined to identify which one he prefers. (“I like them all but try to stay away.”)People, of course, would still eat. But the prospect of higher profit margins, List suggested, is almost certainly beside the point in the minds of Augusta National’s green-jacketed members, who are often titans of business or politics. Whatever quarters are left on the table represent an investment of sorts, experts said, while also aligning well with the ethos of the club and the state.“They want to shock and awe you on the low side, and they could double, triple or quadruple the prices,” List said as he headed to a Chicago White Sox game this week. “I would have noticed and thought that’s kind of normal. And I don’t think the Masters wants to do anything common.”Exactly how much money runs through Augusta National is unclear, a multimillion-dollar mystery that satisfies a tradition of privacy at a club that has long faced accusations of racism and sexism.Augusta National does not say how many tickets it sells for $75 for practice rounds or $115 for competition days, or how much it makes from the decidedly-not-low-cost merchandise fans buy and lug around in clear plastic bags. Its television deal with CBS has long been a series of one-year contracts that are not believed to be hugely lucrative for either the network or the club. It accepts only a handful of blue-chip sponsors, and Ridley said this week that the club would donate its proceeds from a new video game partnership with EA Sports to a foundation that promotes golf.And Augusta National is unafraid to capitalize on its food when it is bound for places beyond its gates. This year, fans could have Masters fare delivered to their doorsteps, including pounds of pimento cheese, pork and chocolate chip cookies. For good measure, the $150 packages included 25 of the dishwasher-safe plastic cups that are the tournament’s premier souvenirs.A sandwich, drink and a cookie costs around $5.Doug Mills/The New York TimesBut whatever Augusta’s financials look like, they are almost assuredly helped by the simplicity of the club’s menu. Along with the pimento cheese, which is served between two pieces of white bread, there is an egg salad sandwich for $1.50. This year brought the introduction of a new sandwich, chicken salad on a brioche bun, for $3. The most expensive selections on the menu are the beers, served in green plastic cups for the princely sum of $5.Pimento cheese, a staple of Southern events from backyard gatherings to black-tie weddings, has been on Augusta National’s menu since the early days, and is the most famous of the club’s culinary offerings.Nathalie Dupree, the cookbook author and pre-eminent Southern chef, said the acid in the mayonnaise acts as a preservative, clearing the way for golf fans to carry a couple of the sandwiches in a pocket or purse for a few hours and nibble at them under Georgia’s warm spring sun.“It is sort of Southern genius that they are going to figure out a sandwich for the heat,” Dupree said. “You are always working around the heat, before air-conditioning, particularly.”The sandwich was appearing prominently in newspaper accounts of the tournament by the 1970s, which was also when the Junior League of Augusta published its recipe book, “Tea-Time at the Masters.” The club’s pimento cheese recipe was not included, though a step-by-step guide for a concoction christened cheese paste, made from Cheddar, cream cheese and pimento cheese — at room temperature — did.The woman who submitted it? “Mrs. Arnold Palmer,” Winifred Palmer, whose husband had already won his four Masters titles by then.“My mother in particular was very fond of the pimento cheese sandwiches at Augusta,” said Amy Palmer Saunders, who chairs the Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation. “She would’ve enjoyed experimenting with anything like that in the kitchen.”Augusta National keeps the concession menu simple and affordable.Doug Mills/The New York TimesThe players also revere the food, simple as it is.Bubba Watson, who won in 2012 and 2014, said he favors the barbecue and pimento cheese sandwiches, asking club staff to hold the egg salad and slip in more pork when he orders a trio known as the Taste of the Masters. And before he won last year’s tournament, Dustin Johnson declared simply, “My favorite thing about the Masters is the sandwiches.”To walk the course this week is a chance to hear, no matter the time, someone mulling what they want to eat. The cashiers, accepting only credit or debit cards because of the coronavirus pandemic, are waiting.“They fulfill kind of the dream that you have,” said List, who described Augusta’s approach as “Adam Smith in his glory.”“When you see it on TV, you think it’s a wonderland,” he said of the course. “And Disney looks like a wonderland until they stick it to your wallet.” More