AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Champions Dinner was held Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, an exclusive gathering of past Masters winners and club chairman Fred Ridley.
There was one significant champion missing, however: Tiger Woods, who set fire to the sports world in 2019 with his stirring comeback win here to claim his fifth green jacket. Woods is still back home in Florida recovering from serious leg injuries suffered in February in a single-car crash in California.
Rory McIlroy, who lives near Woods in Jupiter, Florida, said Tuesday he spent a couple of hours with Woods the Sunday before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago.
“It was good to see him in decent spirits,” McIlroy said. “When you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, it’s like, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that.”
World No. 2 Justin Thomas, who won The Players in March, also lives in Jupiter and said he has visited Woods several times as well. Thomas said he misses his regular pre-Masters routine of playing practice rounds with Woods and 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples.
“We texted Friday morning and he (Woods) said it’s kind of starting to set in,” Thomas said of Woods not being able to play this year. “He’s bummed he’s not here playing practice rounds with us, and we hate it, too.”
Woods himself tweeted Tuesday afternoon good-naturedly about not being there with defending champion Dustin Johnson.
“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods tweeted. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”
Johnson says Augusta playing fast
The Augusta National member moderating Johnson’s news conference commented on his record winning score in November of 20-under par 268.
“Never happened before,” the moderator said, “may never happen again.”
Johnson didn’t necessarily disagree.
“It’s pretty firm for Monday and Tuesday,” said Johnson, trying to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods as the only back-to-back Masters winners. “The ball is bouncing a good bit. Definitely a lot different conditions than November. The golf course played really soft then just because of the weather.”
There is a chance of rain Friday-Sunday, which could impact the playing conditions.
“I don’t know really how much it will affect the golf course,” Johnson said. “But as of right now, the course is going to play pretty difficult.”
Mickelson: respect earned
Phil Mickelson said the greens were so soft for November’s Masters he plugged a 5-iron in the green on the par-5 second hole.
“It plugged,” the three-time Masters champion said for emphasis.
Soft greens leave Augusta National defenseless, he said. That isn’t the case this year, for the first time in a long time.
“If it’s firm it’s going to be a real test,” Mickelson said. “And major championships should challenge and test the best players. I think with firm greens, this golf course needs to be respected, and I think it's been a long time since it's had to be respected.”
DJ out early Thursday
Parings for Thursday and Friday’s first two rounds were released Tuesday afternoon.
Johnson plays with Lee Westwood and U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci at 8:30 a.m. CDT Thursday and 12:36 p.m. Friday. They’re followed Thursday by Xander Schauffele, 2019 Zurich Classic of New Orleans winner (with Ryan Palmer) Jon Rahm and McIlroy at 8:42 a.m. Thursday and 12:48 p.m. Friday.
Other key parings include:
• Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka and Viktor Hovland: 8:06 a.m. and 12:12 p.m.
• Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger and Paul Casey: 8:45 a.m. and 1 p.m.
• Adam Scott, Bryson DeChambeau and Max Homa: 11:36 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.
• Jordan Spieth, Cameron Smith and Collin Morikawa: noon and 9:54 a.m.
For all tee times, visit Masters.com.