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Masters 2014: The Players, The Course, The Stories, The History

It’s one of the closest places we have in this country to hallowed ground in the world of sports, and it’s taking center stage again this week

The Augusta National Golf Club, home to The Masters, will be the focus of our collective attention for the next four days.

But one of the special things about golf’s first major every year, is that it is much more than just a tournament – it’s a happening – with traditions and great stories leading into The Masters each year.

From the Par 3 Contest to Phil Mickelson paying off a bet to an Augusta patron
to Kevin Streelman giving away his Masters tickets to strangers, there’s always some intrigue at the most memorable golf course in America.

Our resident golf expert, Joel Harrington from 4 Deep Golf blog, told me The Masters is more than just a sporting event:

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Tiger Woods
DORAL, FL – MARCH 09: Tiger Woods grimages after playing a bunker shot on the fifth hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Two things missing from the 2014 Masters are generating a lot of buzz.

First is the absence of four-time champ Tiger Woods, who is missing the event because of major back problems.

I asked Joel about the pros and cons of having a Tiger-free Masters:

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The Masters - Hole 17
AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 08: The 17th fairway is seen from the tee box during a practice round prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia. The “Eisenhower Tree”, which once stood on the left side of the fairway, was destroyed by a storm in February. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The other notable absence in 2014 isn’t who, but what. The Eisenhower Tree, a fixture on the 17th fairway for decades is gone after falling victim to bitterly cold weather in February.

The tree has actually served as more than a visual distraction for some players over the years, but Joel says there are golfers who will greatly benefit from not having the additional obstacle:

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The Masters - Hole 12
AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 13: Adam Scott of Australia hits his tee shot on the 12th hole during the third round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

One thing that sets Augusta apart from nearly every other course in the world is the beautiful setting.

That backdrop and the course’s design lead to some very memorable holes.

Everyone’s got their favorite:

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As for this year’s field, Rory McIlroy and defending champ Adam Scott are 10-to-1 favorites, with Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, and Matt Kuchar 12-to-1, and Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson 20-to-1.

The intrigue will start on the first two days with many of the favorites paired together, including Day, Johnson, and Herik Stenson teeing off at 12:04pm Central time Thursday:

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