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Vince Johnson: The tension is eased at Augusta National

Posted: April 8, 2013 11:44 p.m.
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:44 p.m.

Tiger Woods catches a ball while hitting on the driving range during a practice round for the Masters Tournament on Monday in Augusta, Ga.

 

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s like Augusta National got a shoulder rub.

After several years of tense Tiger interviews and watching Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne get peppered by “women member” questions, the place known for perfection seemed a little more perfect as the week leading up to the Masters Tournament kicked off on Monday.

Gone were the protesters. The constant threat of jeers from the patrons had subsided.

“There’s not a blade of grass out of place,” one patron quipped to his buddies.

It’s a statement more true than ever.

On the surface, Augusta National is in peak condition. The holy grail of golf is landscaped by the greenest of greens, with a burst of pink azaleas popping from its canvas. Quite frankly — and this is a bold statement — the course is in better shape than ever.

But just beneath the surface, there’s a calmness at the National. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice, who was inducted as one of the first two female members of the exclusive club in August 2012, was all smiles Sunday as she donned her green jacket.

The knot of that decades-long battle has been lifted.

And Tiger Woods, the polarizing villain of the tournament in 2010, was bouncing around the back nine Monday with playing partner Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old player who will be the youngest Masters participant in tournament history. Woods, with a No. 1 world ranking and three wins on tour already this year, is poised as a favorite to win his fifth green jacket and his first since 2005.

If his gallery Monday was any indication, the villainous role is long gone.

So with the tension seemingly left in the humidity of previous years, Augusta National is back to doing what it does best — showcasing the game of golf on its grandest stage.

Thousands of patrons glided around the course Monday, their bright Polos and finest sundresses appearing like gum balls around the rolling hills of Augusta National.

Just off of the course in the interview room, Chairman Billy Payne was announcing his newest endeavor, a “Drive, Chip and Putt” competition for kids that will span the country and conclude on the 18th green at Augusta National.

The program is a joint venture between the United States Golf Association, the PGA of America and Augusta National.

When the opportunity for questions arose, the probing questions were no longer centered around equality or off-the-course transgressions. They were centered around, well, belly putters.

“Will the children be restricted on any kind of putters that they are able to use,” the reporter asked.

The room burst with laughter. Chairman Payne smirked.

In 2013, the tension will be left for the weekend on the course.

To follow Vince’s Masters coverage all week, visit signalscv.com/masters or follow him at twitter.com/vincejohnson. To learn more about the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, visit drivechipandputt.com.

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