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US Masters: Augusta needs a fine master and in Tiger Woods' absence, you wouldn't bet against Scott doing it again... or McIlroy

By Kevin Garside

it was shortly after ten when the Masters champion strode across the post-Tiger vista. The prettiest garden in all of golf looked as arresting as ever, this vast Georgia pageant falling away towards Amen Corner, concealed in the pines below.

"It's Adam Scott," went the whisper, echoing around the well upholstered swathe of humanity gathered around the clubhouse green as the unmistakably tall, athletic figure passed towards the tenth tee, preceded by his caddie Steve Williams operating as a battering ram to part the throng.

It is one of the great walks in golf, and at the start of the week the concern surrounded who might fill it. The storm that blew through Augusta on Monday forcing the gates to shut somehow symbolised the absence of Woods, spreading a sense of despondency.

Emptiness claimed the site. The talk was less about who might win but on how the tournament would respond to the absence of the game's iconic figure.

Arnold Palmer was the last to address the issue late on Tuesday night. A raised arm greeted the cheers as he made his way from the clubhouse to the media complex. His attendance confers upon Augusta the atmosphere of a royal visit, not for nothing is he addressed as 'the king'.

Palmer was the Woods of a bygone era, raising the visibility and profile of golf in Fifties and Sixties America. But his presence also marks the inexorable passing of time.

The hands that once had magic in them appeared gnarled as they reached out for a rail that would give him balance. The clock takes them all down in the end.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Palmer's seventh and final major victory here in 1964. He played some of his best golf thereafter, winning 17 PGA titles.

The failure to meet the psychological demands that increased with each passing year without a major cost him, he claimed. He wondered if Woods might not be in the grip of the same difficulty.

That Woods should dominate the agenda is understandable but fears about the game's well-being without him proved unfounded the moment Scott (pictured) appeared straight from central casting. The blue-eyed stare and Hollywood smile drew the gaze of all. At 33 he will never look sharper, his game, too, is at a fine peak.

Only the statistical weight behind the infrequency of champions returning to retain the green jacket, just three have pulled that off in 80 years, Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Sir Nick Faldo, sees Scott behind Rory McIlroy in the betting, not that he views his status as champion as a bar to succeeding.

"I don't know if there are answers to why only a couple guys have managed to repeat their performance. It's just one of those things. I certainly don't think any of the responsibilities are so draining that it's going to cost you having a good week out on the golf course.

"It's just one of those things; in time, I'm sure more and more guys will, but at the moment, it's only a couple, but I'd like to add my name to that list this week," he said.

There would be one, final scoping of drying greens on the back nine before the par-3 carnival began in the afternoon. "It's Adam Scott, Adam Scott, Adam Scott," and off he went to the sound track of his own name towards the sacred heart of Augusta National. European Tour veteran Thomas Bjorn and last week's winner in Houston, Matt Jones, accompanied him down the tenth fairway, not that many looking on could name either.

If any tournament is equipped to survive the loss of Woods it is this, the first major of the year, bringing with it a sense wonder and renewal. It is here that Woods crossed the threshold into the major firmament, but it was the Masters that made him, not the reverse, just as it recast Scott as a player of real substance as well as good-looking jock.

The vision created by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts has acquired a mystique even they could not have imagined. At birth it struggled to survive, the owners passing the begging bowl around the business community to avoid closure. Today it is the game's most powerful economic driver, sufficiently wealthy to create its own reality, impervious to the financial fundamentals at play elsewhere.

The sheer scale of the operation sets it apart. It is not what golf was meant to be but it is what the game has come to represent, at least in the United States, the ultimate expression of the good life.

And through this verdant prism is the glorification of Masters perfection projected and sold. The game has bought into it wholesale, evidenced by the reverence and awe that erupts from the players on receipt of an invite.

On Sunday one of them will emerge the hero, welcomed into the Masters fold for all eternity.

McIlroy poked his head above the parapet to speak about the desirability of a dominant figure to fill the gap temporarily left by Woods, and hoped it might be him. He certainly has the game and with two majors already banked has all the requirements at 24 to govern.

Others, like Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, are hoping for a late shaft of sunlight to bless careers stunted by the could-have, should-have blight. This place has them all believing in dreams.

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