Sports Outside the Beltway

2007 Masters Begins Today

The first major of the 2007 PGA Tour season has already teed it up this morning.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Time to muster Arnie’s Army again, this time for a very short walk.

Arnold Palmer, the four-time Masters champion who played for the 50th and final time three years ago, will hit the opening tee shot Thursday and become the seventh honorary starter in tournament history.

“The time has come,” Palmer said Tuesday. “I think all of you know what Augusta means to me.”

Arnold retired from competitive golf less than a year ago. Wouldn’t it be great if Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus would join Arnie as ceremonial starters?

The early leader is another former Masters Champ, Ben Crenshaw.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ben Crenshaw woke up early and turned back the clock Thursday, taking the early Masters lead on a super-sized course that was supposed to leave oldtimers like him far behind.

The 55-year-old, two-time champion played shots he probably never would have imagined when he last won at Augusta in 1995 — an emotional week he devoted to his longtime teacher, Harvey Penick, who had died shortly before the tournament.

Gentle Ben used a 5-wood for his second shot on the 455-yard first hole, but got the ball to the green and safely two-putted.

He used the traditional three shots to reach the par-5 second — normally a two-shot hole for the big hitters — and waited nearly 10 minutes to putt, after Davis Love III and John Kelly batted it around the green for a while.

But Crenshaw made that putt for birdie, then made par on the next two holes and was at 1-under par after four.

I wouldn’t be taking Ben to the bank yet. As long-time CBS golf analyst Ken Venturi used to say, “The Masters doesn’t truly begin till the 10th tee on Sunday afternoon.” It is fair to say we are a long way from knowing the winner.

ESPN ranks the 97 players in this field. Anyone want to guess who is #1?

1. Tiger Woods

Win What, like you expected to see anyone else atop this list? On the 10-year anniversary of his historic 12-shot victory, Woods enters firing on all cylinders, just two weeks removed from lulling the field to sleep at Doral. Sure, the putter’s been a tad balky recently, but that was likely shored up during practice rounds, as the official March to History continues this week. Another green jacket gives Tiger five, leaving him one behind Jack Nicklaus, and ups his major championship total to 13, in clear view of the all-time lead.

No surprise there. The rest of ESPN’s top 10 picks are in order- Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Charles Howell III, Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk.

I truthfully think ESPN has Davis Love way too high and Furyk way too low.

Stuart Appleby PhotoIf I were to take a longshot, it is this player:

30. Stuart Appleby T-19 The good news: Appleby finally cracked the top 20 for the first time at this event in 2006. The bad news: It took him 10 years to do so.

Appleby has never done well at Augusta but he is a good putter and is coming off a 2nd place finish last weekend.

We’ll know early Sunday evening who wins the Green Jacket.

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