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Masters 2018: It's quite a sight, but beauty of Augusta is not just in its scenery

By Adam McKendry

You need only stand at the entrance to Augusta National to know this is no ordinary golf tournament.

Two-time champion Byron Nelson described it as "far superior to anything I have ever played", course co-designer Bobby Jones said it was a "truly unforgettable" place and six-time winner Jack Nicklaus called it "something really special".

You need only look at the drive to the clubhouse - Magnolia Lane - as proof of the grandeur of the Georgia gem, the beautiful tree-lined stretch as iconic as the course itself.

The Masters requires not just your all for the entire week to be the one standing adorned with the green jacket on Sunday evening, you need that little extra something to add another hanger to your wardrobe.

For Bubba Watson in 2012, it was that magnificent hook shot from the trees in the play-off. For Phil Mickelson in 2010, it was the low, rasping iron from the pine straw on the 13th. Who can forget Tiger Woods' hole-out at 16 in 2005?

And this year, more than most with so many sub-plots, the winner will need to produce something that makes us sit up and take notice.

In that regard, it's interesting to look at how the competitors approach this week.

Yesterday was press conference day and it's quite clear that there won't be one formula that comes out on top.

For instance, it's natural that expectation rests heavily on Woods, but the former World No.1 insisted he was only concentrating on taking it one round at a time and enjoying being back at a favourite venue.

Ironically, that's much the same approach being taken by two players at the other end of the spectrum: amateur duo Joaquin Niemann and Yuxin Lin, both just happy to be here.

But, while they're two of six competing for the Silver Cup, awarded to the best amateur, Woods is part of what is being quickly built up as a heated contest between the old boys and the new generation.

It's another green jacket holder, Mickelson - whose decision to play a practice round with Woods yesterday caused more than just a stir - who will spearhead the second half of the past champions' charge.

In contrast to Woods, the 47-year-old was bullish about his chances having won in Mexico a few weeks ago, as was our own Rory McIlroy after his win in Orlando - as he should be.

But it's interesting to note how those coming in off the back of wins are more open about the possibility of walking away a champion - and, in Rory's case, a Grand Slam winner - compared to others.

Justin Thomas, arguably the form player coming into this week, spoke of being mentally prepared after his failure to reach World No.1. He's another who fancies his chances.

Chief among those keeping a low profile was Jordan Spieth, whose form so far this season has failed to impress, with the 2015 champion focusing on finding some form at what he described as "our Super Bowl".

That there are so many trying to fly under the radar in what is set to be one of the closest Masters in recent memory, the possibility of mind games rears its head. You'll take an advantage any way you can here.

Because there's no one way to win around Augusta. If you dissected each previous winner's rounds in depth you would find a myriad of combinations.

So perhaps Jon Rahm, the Irish Open champion and World No.3, put it best ahead of tomorrow's opening round.

"If there's 5,000 ways to play a regular course, then there's probably about 50,000 ways to go around Augusta," the Spaniard said with a smile.

"That's the beauty of it."

Belfast Telegraph

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