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Elite Field Aims to Win Masters Golf Tournament - 2004-04-04

The first major tournament of the golf season tees off this week in Augusta, Georgia as an elite field aims to win the Masters, the only major golf tournament held at the same course every year.

The anticipation of the Masters comes from the place where it is held because the Augusta National Golf Club is all about golf and its traditions. Even for an icon such as Arnold Palmer, a four-time Masters winner, there are few things in the game to compare with the atmosphere at the Masters Tournament amid the groves of azaleas in full bloom.

Palmer will play this week in his 50th consecutive and final Masters. This is the 40th anniversary of Palmer's fourth Masters, the last of his seven professional major titles. Palmer has not made the mid-tournament cut since 1983. That was also the last time he broke par at Augusta National.

Palmer says little has changed since he first played in the tournament and had the opportunity to mingle with the game's greats of that time, including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen. He is now the legend that many of the young professionals enjoy being with.

Three-time Masters champion Tiger Woods holds the record for the lowest winning score at the Masters, with a 12-under-par 270 in 1997.

Some changes will greet the players this year, including added trees and longer holes. Woods says the course will also play differently if it does not rain.

"I am curious to see if it is actually going to be dry," he said. "Because we have yet to play Augusta since they have lengthened the golf course and changed the different tee angles and stuff, added trees. We have not played it dry since 1999."

South African Ernie Els has won three career major titles, but is still looking for his first Masters title. Els says the short game is crucial to winning.

"Chip shots, chip and run shots, and bunker play is very important there. Obviously putts from eight feet and in, you have got to be pretty solid on those," he said.

Also crediting his short game is Canadian golfer Mike Weir. In four starts at Augusta National, Weir has never finished lower than 28th. He is the defending champion and the first left-handed player to win at Augusta. Weir will attempt to become the 16th multiple winner of the Masters.

Another left-handed player, American Phil Mickelson, will be in search of his first major title. He has finished third at the Masters in each of the past three years.