Unlike almost every other golf tournament, the Masters is a full week-long celebration. The tournament is four days, but there are earlier events and traditions that provoke more interest than many competitive rounds at other golf tournaments. There's a Champions Dinner, a par-3 contest, and a revolving door of media center appearances that sometimes provide contentious drama. Whether you find it treacly and interminable or not, the hype and obligations around the pre-tournament days are unique to the Masters. It's a full week from Monday morning through Sunday night's green jacket presentation.
The mania around this year's run-up to the first tee shot will be a little toned down compared with last year. At the 2015 Masters, we had the reappearance of Tiger Woods, who had gone into hiding for a couple months to figure out if he could still chip a golf ball. With how ugly it looked in the first couple months of 2015, it seemed unlikely that Tiger would play the season's first major, where chipping off of tightly mown grass can expose any yips or flaw you might be fighting.
But there was Tiger, announcing he'd come back cold and give it a go at Augusta. When he showed up at the beginning of the week, the cameras tracked his every move on the range. We sat on the edge of the couch just watching him warm him up on the short-game range. Every time he took the club back was a dramatic moment of panic ... would this be the ground ball shank?
It made that first practice round day a circus but Tiger was determined to go to the chipping area first and show off for the Golf Channel cameras that he had been healed.
There's less drama this week with Tiger announcing late last Friday that he was not "physically ready" to play this year. He may not tee it up, but because this is the Masters, he'll still be flying in to partake in the pre-tournament events. Here's your schedule for the week:
Monday, April 4
The first day of Masters week is the most low-key. There are no official obligations for the players. Many arrive for the first time and register, especially if they were playing the prior week in Houston. There will be a few press conferences in the media room, but the biggest names come Tuesday and Wednesday over there.
Monday is also usually a good opportunity for a full 18-hole practice round. As the week progresses, most of the big guns want to play less golf -- maybe 9 holes of practice -- and they also have the par-3 contest. We've already got a hole-in-one in the practice round on Monday, courtesy of one of the favorites this week.
Good omen? @McIlroyRory makes hole-in-one on the 16th to beat @Chris3Wood 3&2 in their friendly match at @TheMasters— Phil Casey (@pcaseysafc) April 4, 2016
While this is the first official practice round day, most players have already gotten their heavy work in at some point in the past month. Amateur Bryson DeChambeau said he played 11 practice rounds before this week. Both Golf Channel (1-5 p.m. ET, 7-9 p.m.) and CBS Sports Network (noon-2 p.m. ET) will have live coverage from the grounds throughout the day.
Tuesday, April 5
More practice! Things start to get more tense and serious on Tuesday around the practice range and on the course, but the day is anchored by the Champions Dinner. This is one of the pre-tournament highlights and it has nothing to do with golf. Guessing the details of the menu and then reacting once it leaks out have become a sport. This year's meal should be more exciting than what Bubba had served up last year (Caesar salad and grilled chicken -- wild!). The defending champ gets to set the menu and Jordan Spieth has already said it will be Texas-inspired, with different barbecue options. It's not as exotic as Aussie Adam Scott's Moreton Bay Bugs, but still a good choice that will satisfy most of the former champions in the room.
Tiger is supposed to be there, and since he's not playing maybe he'll be the one to leak the menu out on social media.
Tonight's @TheMasters Champions Dinner menu!! #TheMasters #samething pic.twitter.com/9KYNWb8yG2— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) April 8, 2015
Earlier in the day, there should be a parade of the biggest stars through the press briefing room. This is the day when most of the top guys want to get that 15-30 minute press conference out of the way. So expect Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and others to make their visits with the press, tell stories, and giggle.
We'll also get the tee times and pairings announced just before noon, which gives us an hour or so of entertainment to dissect just how the green jackets decided to group everyone this year. The CBS Sports Network On the Range show will run from 9-11 a.m. ET, while Golf Channel will pretty much be "Live From" the entire day with stories, anecdotes, and coverage from the property (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, 7-9 p.m.).
Wednesday, April 6
The last day to get your prep work in and then have some fun in the afternoon. On the final day before a tournament, most players like to get out on the course early -- like before the sun is up early. That's the case at the majors when you really don't want to be doing heavy course scouting or work on your swing just hours before the first round. Play nine holes in the morning and then maybe participate in the par-3 contest in the afternoon.
The par-3 is completely unique to the Masters. A tee sheet of former winners, legends of the game, and friends of 2016 invitees will play a quick nine holes on Augusta's par-3 course that abuts the full-size layout.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Ben Crenshaw will be the dignitary trio that gets much of the camera time on ESPN (broadcast from 3-5 p.m. ET). The best part of the par-3 contest, however, is all the kids who make their way on the course. Players' significant others and children usually put on the white jumpsuits and caddie, which also means they get to hit a few and putt a few for the cameras.
The par-3 has really grown over the years, transitioning from a lesser-known tradition to a big television event on ESPN.
On the press center side, this is also the traditional day that Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne meets the media. That can be uneventful, or it can get confrontational and juicy. There are no major controversies on the front burner surrounding the the club this year, but maybe someone will ask him again if they're open to having an LPGA event.
Thursday -- Sunday, April 7-10
The field at Augusta is almost 70 players smaller than the other three major championships. Augusta does not hand out invites to open qualifiers or PGA club pros -- the field stays exclusive to around 90 players each year. That means every single player goes off the 1st tee and there's not some sprint to send a massive group off two tees in multiple waves from sun-up to sun-down.
Tee times on Thursday and Friday will run from about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET, with rain in the forecast potentially disrupting the opening round. ESPN will broadcast the first two rounds from 3-7:30 p.m. ET.
The weekend chops the field down and gives the green jackets even more flexibility. All the tee times are twosomes off the No. 1 tee. Jim Nantz and CBS take over the broadcast, running from 3-7 p.m. on Saturday and 2-7 p.m. ET on Sunday.
In addition to the TV coverage, there will also be three separate streams each tournament day. They are the usual ones dedicated to a couple featured groups, Amen Corner, and Nos. 15-16. Those will start in the morning each day depending on the featured groups (9:15 a.m. ET) and when players start arriving at those spots on the course (~10:45 a.m. ET).
Monday, April 11
The Masters is the most popular event in golf and its winner becomes a celebrity overnight, if he's not already. Whether it's Bubba Watson on Letterman, or Phil going through the drive-through in his new green jacket, Monday is always fun to check in on the manic schedule of the champion and his new garment.
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Watch Ernie Els seven-putt from six feet out
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