AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 8- World No. 1 Tiger Woods arrived at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday to begin a challenging week that he hopes will culminate in a fifth Masters title and a 15th major championship victory.
Fifty years to the day since Jack Nicklaus won his first Masters title, the man trying to break Nicklaus’ record of 18 major crowns spent about 20 minutes on the practice range and played a practice round with pal Steve Stricker.
“I feel great,” Woods said. “Everything is good.”
Woods is the only three-time winner on tour this season after triumphs at Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill and tops the money list with $3.8 million ahead of his 19th Masters start.
Woods, 37, has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and last won the Masters in 2005. His other Masters titles came in 1997, 2001 and 2002.
On the day before the first public practice session ahead of Thursday’s start of the 77th Masters, ticket brokers were already lined along the highway leading to the course hoping the cash in on the event’s popularity.
Inside the fences and just beyond the clubhouse at the end of Magnolia Lane, players enjoyed one last chance at solitude, or for some a first chance at learning some secrets from the legends of the Masters.
Chinese 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, who will become the youngest player in Masters history, chatted with two-time Masters champion Tom Watson.
Adam Scott, hoping to become the first Australian to win the Masters, took a few moments to appreciate the flowers and scenic beauty on offer amid the towering pine trees.
“It’s so quiet you can enjoy the course, get your bearings and have no distractions,” Scott said. “You can actually take time for yourself. You can see forever.
“You can look around, soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the moment and take it all in because it really is the calm before the storm.”
Scotland’s Martin Laird won the Texas Open on Sunday to claim the 94th and final available spot in this year’s Masters field, securing his place for the third year in a row.
Laird became the first player since American Johnson Wagner in 2008 at Houston to win the week before the Masters to claim a spot in the lineup.
Five players have won the week before the Masters and followed by winning the green jacket the next week, the most recent of them Phil Mickelson in 2006.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy finished second at Texas, his best showing of the year, and will play for his third week in a row this week, all after Woods won at Bay Hill last month to replace him atop the rankings.
“I am really pleased with my game,” McIlroy said. “This has been a great week for me.”