DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, the first round of golf's first major tournament of the year tees off today. And if people are not excited enough about the Masters, there is added drama this year. The most recognizable golfer on the planet, Tiger Woods, is a bonafide favorite to win his fifth green jacket. NPR's Tom Goldman has been wandering, strolling the grounds of golf's most storied course. He joins us now from Augusta, Georgia. And, Tom, how did you get this assignment?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hard duty, David.
GOLDMAN: I think it's years of just good hard work.
GREENE: Well, tell us how much Tiger buzz there is down there.
GOLDMAN: There's a lot. You know, it's the first Masters since he won last major tournament in 2008, where he really seems like Tiger of old. After, you know, the scandal, after his multiple injuries, he's ranked number one in the world again. He's winning tournaments, three this year so far. He reportedly is happy as shock of that scandal recedes.
And he's got a new girlfriend in Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. But most importantly, David, his putting is on. You know, when he laying waste to tour back in the day, his putting was a particular weapon. It seems to be back. His short game, wedge play, very good too. The swing changes he's been working on with his latest swing coach are settling in.
Appears all systems go.
GREENE: Well, we should say, I guess, that even when things weren't all a go for Tiger, even some of the tougher days, I mean, Augusta's always been a good course him.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's a good point. You know, even when his world was imploding with the sex scandal that led to the breakup of his marriage, even when he was struggling through knee and Achilles injures, he did well here.
GREENE: Well, who could hang in there with Tiger? Who could be his competition?
GOLDMAN: Let's say Matt Kuchar or Dustin Johnson, three-time winner Masters winner Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, of course, who seems to have his game back in order after a difficult start to season that included him quitting mid round in one tournament. But, you know, David, it is very tough to pick.
You look at the recent surprise winners and how they were doing leading up to their surprise win, 2011, South African Charl Schwarzel, he played five PGA tour events leading up to Masters. His best finish was a tie for 14th. So, you know, who's going to pick him? It's an extremely inexact science, and that's we do ultimately end up looking at the players like Tiger Woods, like Phil Mickelson, who have a long track record of doing well here.
GREENE: And did I read correctly that there's a 14-year-old in the mix this year, as well?
GOLDMAN: You are correct, sir.
GREENE: That's crazy.
GOLDMAN: Fourteen-year-old Tianlang Guan of China. The youngest ever to play. He started playing golf at four. He now has 10 years under his belt, but you know what? Not much else. He weighs only 135 pounds. And he is probably too light, you know, he can't hit the ball that far, and too young to withstand the rigors of this course.
It will be interesting how he does, especially if he makes the cut after the first two rounds. That would be really something.
GREENE: So the Masters is always played at Augusta. So that they tweak the course sometimes but an important change in the membership at the country club this year.
GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. Augusta now has female members. But only two. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and philanthropist Darla Moore were added as members last summer. This week, in his annual pre-tournament speech, Augusta chairman Billy Payne said, quote "it's just awesome to have Rice and Moore in the club." And he added "These two ladies have been very special."
You know, some thought his words were condescending. At least is it a change from when the former chairman, Hootie Johnson, told the famous protestor Martha Burk that Augusta might someday admit women, but on its own timetable and not at the point of a bayonet.
GREENE: All right. An important change there at Augusta. Tom, thanks a lot. Enjoy the weekend of golf.
GOLDMAN: Thank you, David.
GREENE: NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman.
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