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March 22, 2014 by Stuart Barber

A while back the professional golf season in Europe began in the Spring and ended in the winter when the weather turned cold and the snow fell. Now with the European Tour spreading its wings East, West and South and many of its players living and playing in America the world is their oyster, and tournament play is continuous for the professional golfer. Indeed with travel now so universal the amateur golfer is also able to take advantage of sunnier and warmer weather in various parts of the world.

So 2014, instead of a quiet lead up to Augusta, started with a bang in January and with a return to some of his 2012 form, we have seen Rory McIlroy seemingly in a position to win at least 2 tournaments. Indeed, with 9 holes left you would have said it was a cast iron certainty for him to win the Honda Classic. But bogeys and double bogey later he stood on the 18th par 5 needing an eagle to win and a birdie for a playoff. His second shot to 11 feet was one of those sublime shots that have made him one of the outstanding current world players, but sadly he didn't hole the putt and then lost the 4 way playoff.

However, pre The Masters, the tournaments although offering generous, even to many eyes obscene amounts of prize money, are but the hors d' oeuvres before the entree which is Augusta. Guaranteed a turnout of all the star players, the Masters, the 1st of the Majors, sets the scene for the season.

How often when going to a restaurant, however tempting are the hors d'oeuvres does one pass and move straight to the main course, and that is what is happening on the Tours these days whether in Europe (often) and on the PGA Tour (more frequently).

Just "Because money is no longer an issue, the top stars are building their schedules around performing well in major championships," said Michael Wright, a former IMG vice president who is now the CEO of Portland, Ore.-based TWS Sponsor Solutions. "And who can blame them? As business people, given the importance of winning one or more majors, why wouldn't they craft their schedules that way?"

"The Tiger effect has been a dual-edged sword," said David Jessey, a partner with FUEL Sports Management and the former sports marketing director for Bank of America. "Because of him, the guys are swimming in money and the game reaches a bigger audience than ever. But as a sponsor, you've lost pull with a lot of guys who might have played your event in the old days or who came into your hospitality tent for a $3,500 appearance fee. They don't do that any more because they don't need the money."

Tour officials hear the grumbling. What action will they, can they take? With more and more players from Europe living in the States and playing in more PGA Tour events, the European Tour is facing a real problem. How do you keep sponsors and what will persuade players to enter their events.? A subject in itself and one which will be the topic of my next blog.

So I want to concentrate on the Masters and offer you some facts and figures about this unique event.

•  With Kevin Stadler winning the Phoenix Open in 2014, his first PGA Tour victory in 239 starts, he will join his father, Craig, in being the only Father and Son to have played in the same Masters Tournament. Craig won the Masters in 1982 in a play-off with Dan Pohl. Craig says this will be his last Masters.

•  Guan Tianlang is the youngest player to have teed up in the Masters at 14 years old

•  Tiger Woods is the youngest player to win a Masters aged 21 in 1997

•  Jack Nicklaus is the oldest aged 46 in 1986

•  Three Englishmen, one Scotsman and one Welshman have won the Masters - 55 American have done so

•  Gary Player holds the record for most appearances -52

•  Phil Mickelson returned the most birdies - 25 in one tournament in 2001

•  Jack Nicklaus has finished in the top 5 in 15 Masters

•  There have been 23 holes in one since the inaugural tournament

•  15 of them have been at hole 16

•  Sam Sneed was awarded the first green jacket in 1949

•  Only one President of the USA has been invited to membership - Dwight Eisenhower

•  Only 3 pro golfers have been invited to membership, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and former outstanding amateur and now member of Senior PGA Tour, John Harris.

•  The 61 large magnolia trees that line both sides of the 330-yard road, Magnolia Drive, date from the late 1850's

•  The first winner in 1934 was Horton Smith, who won $1,500

•  In 2013 Adam Scott won $1,440,000 an increase of 960%

(Acknowledgements to Augusta National and Function 18 for these facts and figures)

But in today's figures what is $1,500 worth? - according to Google, $26,482,84 - with an annual inflation of 3.65% and total inflation 1665.52% - so times weren't so bad in 1934? I wonder if it felt that way to the winner?

You might care to wager one or two of these facts with your friends - but the big one must be Who is going to win?

Woods - Mickelson - McIlroy - Westwood - Donald - or who? Well, Sunday April 13th will be lucky for someone!

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