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Players start arriving at Augusta

Augusta National was filling up on Monday ahead of the 2007 Masters as the world's best golfers rubbed shoulders with the advance party of fans ahead of Thursday's opening round.

Top two favourites Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who between them have won five out of the last six tournaments, had already got their campaigns off and running.

Woods, seeking a fifth green jacket, played a practice round on Sunday for the first time in this his 13th appearance at Augusta.

The world No. 1 played nine holes in the early afternoon, enjoying some practice in relative peace and quiet before the doors opened for the crowds on Monday.

He had little to say short of: "Every ball went forward which is good."

The 31-year-old American was due to talk to the press early on Tuesday afternoon to share his thoughts as he bids for a third straight win in a major and the 13th in his career.

Defending champion Mickelson has been at Augusta since Thursday and Sunday marked the first time he had carded a hole-in-one on the course, aceing the par-three 16th with an eight-iron.

His playing partner was young Scot Richie Ramsay, who earned an invite to his first Masters by winning the US Amateur Championship.

Ramsay used the occasion to get some inside information on how to handle the fabled course. "Just picked the brain about a few things around the greens," he said. "Who better to ask than the Masters champion. Huge fun but productive at the same time."

Since the second Masters in 1935, the only time a debutante has claimed the green jacket was when Fuzzy Zoeller won in 1979. But Woods said the Masters was the easiest major to win once you learn how to solve the mysteries of Augusta.

"If you're playing well, probably, yeah," Woods said. "It takes a lot more experience than people think to know how to play the golf course. You have to learn it over time - practice rounds.

"I was lucky enough where I was able to play practice rounds with all of the past champions, with Arnold, Jack, Seve, Raymond, Freddie.

"All of these guys invited me to come play with them as an amateur and I would sit there and just pick their brain until they were crazy."

More than half of the 97-strong field for the 71st Masters had registered at Augusta by Sunday, with most of the others heading north after competing in the Houston Open.

That tournament, which has been moved forward in the new USPGA schedule, was won by 26-year-old Australian Adam Scott, moving him up to a career-best third in the world rankings and establishing him as one of the best threats to break the Woods/Mickelson stranglehold.

Reminded that last year Mickelson won in Houston before going on to lift his second Masters the following week, Scott was reticient to forecast a similar accomplishment for himself.

"I'm sure Phil felt confident going to Augusta last year, I think he romped it in Atlanta by 13 shots," the Australian said.

"I feel great about my game but I'm certainly not predicting a win at Augusta."

For many it was a case of either refamiliarising themselves with the fabled layout of the north Georgia course or, for some, taking their tentative first steps on to the hallowed green turf.

But for all of them there was a sense of anticipation as Masters week fully got into swing.

Despite being the local lad and more used than the others to playing at Augusta, Charles Howell insisted it was no different for him.

"This is probably one of the only places in the world where on a Monday you can still feel a lot of nerves,"

"There's a three-day window to get acclimatised to what changes there are at the Masters. You work on your chipping and putting. As soon as you think you have this place figured out, it will throw you a curve ball."

"The golf course tests every aspect of your game. This place demands so much patience and composure. The man who wins it will have the most of it."


April 3, 2007

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