AUGUSTA, Ga. — To fully enjoy this column, there needs to be a soft, gentile piano melody playing in the background. Picture CBS's Jim Nantz calm, poetic voice ...
"Linnell's return to Augusta in high definition newsprint. Like spring returning to this hallowed ground and the azaleas — the true spirit of Augusta National — blooming with just a kiss of sunshine, Minot Daily News sports editor Michael Linnell returns to The Masters for a historic, MDN record-setting third time. A hush comes over the crowd as he decides if he should have the chicken fillet sandwich, a hot dog or the all-new hamburger at the media building. He went for all three, what a competitor."
OK, so that might have been a little over dramatic. I tried to get the piano guy to play for me, but he wouldn't and Nantz probably would have called security if I asked him to read this. I did, however, go back to the food line not once, twice or thrice.
But, come on, this is the Masters. You are supposed to overdo it a little. If CBS can flood the airways with a little embellished prose then so can I. And this place will put you in a different mood. Besides, I have to be able to rub it in to anyone who hasn't been here at least a little bit.
Just walking through the plaza that separates the course from the parking lot brings back a flood of memories from a year ago. I wanted to get to the same spots that feel are the best to watch from right away. I wanted to take some more photos of Amen Corner — the green at No. 11, all of the spectacular No. 12 and the first half of No. 13. I wanted to get some shots of guys like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, last year's champion Zach Johnson and Daily News sports writer Chris Bieri's favorite, Boo Weekley (Look, ma, we're in the Daily News!).
Check, check and check.
By the way, Bieri, I tried to get Weekley's caddie to say something with that thick southern drawl, but he didn't bite.
The first day for me at all of the Masters tournaments I have gone to has been Wednesday, the final practice day and the Par 3 Contest. To be honest, I probably like Wednesday better than the playing days — well, maybe not better than Sunday, but pretty close. It offers so much that it rivals even Sunday.
The practice rounds here offer fans about as good of a seat for a top flight sporting event as there is. I stood about five feet away from the threesome of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player during the Par 3 Contest. Seriously, where else can you just walk right up to the playing surface and interact with some of the greatest golfers ever like you can here?
Plus, the Par 3 course might be one of the top two or three courses in the country — not Par 3s, courses. It is immaculate. There isn't a blade of grass out of place on the whole layout, it is fairly challenging, it weaves around two pristine ponds where one was named after a president and it has some of the best views of multiple greens and tee boxes on any course.
Take a quick look at the highlights for me on Day 1: I gave Justin Leonard's family sunscreen, picked up a divot off a tee shot that sailed over to where we were watching from Jim Furyk , promptly putting it up for sale on eBay for $200 and drilled a 15-foot putt on No. 6 to finish off the hole for Mickelson. OK, so the last one never happened and the divot isn't on eBay, but you get the picture.
And, by the way, quite a few spectators do get picked out of the crowd during the Par 3 Contest, so Lefty could have chosen me if he wanted to (miss any putt, even the easy ones — I'm here all week folks, tip your waitresses).
Speaking of people coming out of the crowd to hit a great shot, Fuzzy Zoeller might have set a record for pulling people out of the crowd. He had a women hit a tee shot at No. 12, an extremely tough shot over the water of Rae's Creek. She knocked it stiff — to about five feet and inside all three of the professionals in the group. He then had a girl — maybe 10 or so years old — drain his putt on No. 9 during the Par 3.
It is too bad that Zoeller is probably more well known for a racial statement he made here more than 10 years ago than for all that he does for the game. There is not a more personable player around and probably isn't a better ambassador for the game.
Oh yeah, there is one more aspect of this year's tournament. There is an old adage that says you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer and with that in mind, Jason Feldman will be enhancing our tournament coverage. Today, he and I go head-to-head on who we think is going to win and some other important issues around the 2008 Masters. Keep checking back for all of the times I show just how smart I am about the game of golf and just how dumb Feldman has become.
(Michael Linnell is the sports editor at The Minot Daily News. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)