AUGUSTA, Ga. (NewsNation Now) — This year’s highly anticipated Masters Tournament is getting ready to kick off Thursday after being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jack Nicklaus, whose won six Masters titles and 18 major championships, will join Gary Player, the only non-American to win all four major championships, in hitting ceremonial shots to start the tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Thursday.
The 84th Masters is anticipated to bring change to long-standing traditions in the golf competition, starting with its move from the spring to November.
It’s been eight months since Augusta National said it was postponing the Masters because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and seven months since the club targeted two weeks before Thanksgiving as the most practical time to play this year.
“I’m hopeful that we will see improved conditions regarding this virus, but April is less than five months away, so there’s no assurance of that,” Masters Chairman Fred Ridley said of next year’s tournament. “But we do have hopes that the tournament in April will be closer to normal than it is right now.”
On Tuesday, Jon Rahm skipped a tee shot across the pond, onto the 16th green, and watched it roll the length of the green, down the slope and into the cup. He raised his arms in celebration. There was video, and that was about it.
“Just imagine the roars that would have created in a normal year,” Rory McIlroy said. “It’s a different look. It’s November, and I think everybody just has to embrace that we’re here and we’re playing and that’s a great thing.”
Except for World War II and the one time in 1971 when the PGA Championship moved to February in Florida, the Masters always has been the first major of the year. That rite of spring was about more than azaleas, dogwoods and the pursuit of a green jacket. For many, it signaled the start of golf season, whether that meant playing or watching.
“All the Masters I’ve watched over the years in Ireland, the golfing season started normally the weekend of the Masters,” British Open champion Shane Lowry said. “That’s when everyone gets the clubs out of the garage and dusts off the cobwebs and gets out and starts playing. That’s when the weather starts to go from 6 degrees to about 12 (low 40s to low 50s Fahrenheit). And it only rains a little bit rather than loads.”
In November, it’s more like the grand finale.
McIlroy, Lowry and Tiger Woods are among the many players who will put their clubs back in the garage.
“I think when The Open Championship was canceled, I had serious doubts we’d play a Masters this year in 2020,” McIlroy said. “I think the R&A were in a tough situation, the fact that if they pushed it back, the daylight in the U.K. just isn’t there to hold a field of 156. One of the nice things about the Masters is its limited field.”
Fifteen players on the PGA Tour have tested positive for the coronavirus, including Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world. One player had to miss the PGA Championship in August, two withdrew from the U.S. Open in September and two more — including former Masters champion Sergio Garcia — tested positive ahead of the Masters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reporting by Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer.