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Masters 2011: Tiger Woods Chasing Phil Mickelson and a Fab Four of Contenders

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Masters 2011: Tiger Woods Chasing Phil Mickelson and a Fab Four of Contenders
Harry How/Getty Images
Anguish or Anticipation? The 2011 Masters is uncharted territory for Tiger Woods.

The 2011 Masters projects to be one of the more wide-open contests in recent years; Tiger Woods’ continued progress through drastic swing changes has opened the door for the rest of the golf world to take aim, and connect, in the pursuit of taking down the past decade's elite player.

A host of young guns and improving veterans are proving more ready than ever to take the step onto the podium of golf’s best.

But let’s not forget that we’re talking about Augusta; Tiger Woods is a four-time winner and yearly contender, no matter the state of his game.

Beyond the overwhelming and often static debate of looking at golf through the Tiger lens, Augusta is the only course that hosts a major every year, one of the true masterpieces in golf.

Augusta is the golf course that chews inexperience and slipshod play to pieces, a place where a 25-foot uphill putt can often be desired over a downhill six-footer.

Above all, Augusta National is among the most radiant, historic and mystical courses on earth. I’ve personally spent one day on the grounds, a practice round in 2003, where I vividly remember standing behind the 14th green in downpour, 100 percent sure it was the most spiritual course I had ever stood on.

The personal storylines of Augusta National and the grounds’ relationship with its champions runs beneath the surface, the most unique club of winners in the sport. The echoes of Augusta National are among the most powerful of any arena in sports...somewhat ironic given golf's nature.

It’s no secret Augusta has that effect on everyone the first time around, players included; the average number of starts in the tournament for a first-time Masters Winner is six.

With Tiger’s game in flux, and fans often being reminded the game is much bigger than just him, the 2011 Masters provides a true opportunity to see which of the game's good are willing to step out of the woods, ready to challenge the bounds of becoming major champion.

In 2011, the course and its magic are primed to be in full effect. Not including a week of cool, rainy weather in late March, temperatures have been above normal with below-average rainfall for nearly a month.

Furthermore, the forecast calls for increasingly dry weather and above- to well-above-average temperatures into the weekend.

Length is an advantage at Augusta, but that advantage is not as significant when the course is playing firm and fast.

There is more of a premium on iron play, creativity and ball placement in the short game and speed on the greens.

Fast and firm brings more of the field into contention. Who is Tiger Woods chasing in pursuit of his fifth green jacket?

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