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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Arnold Palmer played his first Masters in 1955 and his initial reaction was similar to what modern players experience. “It was like I had died and gone to heaven,” he said on Tuesday.

Palmer arrived at Augusta National to attend the Champions Dinner and met with the press to talk about his 1964 Masters victory, the last major triumph of his Hall of Fame career.

“It was something that I talked to my father about when I was a baby, and when I was growing up working on a tractor and driving a tractor cutting fairways and greens and tees and knowing that I had arrived at the Masters,” said Palmer, who tied for 10th in his first Masters.

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Palmer, 84, also plans to join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the first tee on Thursday as an honorary starter, a role he hopes to continue.

“The chairman makes that decision, but if he wants me to hit the tee shot and I have to crawl that’s what I’ll do,” said Palmer, a four-time Masters champion.

April 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Arnold Palmer never had an easy time winning majors until the last one.

This is the 50th anniversary of Palmer going wire to wire in the 1964 Masters to win by six shots, giving him a record four green jackets. It was his seventh major, significant because it tied him with some of the greats in the game: Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead. Two more and he could have tied Ben Hogan. Four more majors would have put him alongside Walter Hagen.

Palmer was only 34. He was the King. He was on a roll, winning roughly one of every three majors.

He never won another one.

''Well, of course you never think you're going to be at your last stop,'' Palmer said last week. ''But it was great. I suppose that psychologically I had accomplished maybe more than I even realized by winning the Masters and walking up the 18th hole comfortably. That was something that was truly great for me.''

Tiger Woods was 32 when he won his last major.

Through all these years, Woods has only been linked with Jack Nicklaus when the conversation turns to the majors. They are the only players to win the career Grand Slam three times over. The endless chatter is whether Woods will break the Nicklaus benchmark of 18 majors.

Is it even remotely possible that Woods, much like Palmer, already has won his last major?

Palmer went on to win 19 more times on the PGA Tour. He should have won at least one major and could have won more. Palmer famously lost a seven-shot lead on the back nine of Olympic Club in the 1966 U.S. Open, and then was beaten by Billy Casper in a playoff. He had close calls in 1964 and 1968 at the PGA Championship, the one major that kept him from a career Grand Slam.

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Unlike Woods, he wasn't the best in the world when he stopped winning majors.

Woods captured his 14th major in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. That was six years ago, and so much has happened since, on and off the golf course. The knee surgery. The collapse of his marriage and change in his appeal. Another swing change under a third coach. More injuries.

And he no longer seems to make clutch putts, which might be worse than an injury.

Woods has won 14 times, two Jack Nicklaus awards as PGA Tour player of the year and one FedEx Cup title since his last major. He is still No. 1, not only in the world ranking but in the eyes of his peers.

Speculation about his future in the majors is fueled by this being the golden anniversary of Palmer's last major at Augusta National, and the fact Woods isn't here. He had surgery last week on his back to relieve a pinched nerve that has been bothering him for longer than he cares to reveal.

Woods won't return until this summer. No telling how many more majors he will miss before he is healthy enough to compete at a high level. His age suggests he is in his prime, but add five surgeries to those 38 years and he seems older.

It's foolish to suggest Woods won't win another major. If nothing else he can win one just as easily as Justin Rose did at the U.S. Open or Jason Dufner did at the PGA Championship – not because of who they are or what they were ranked, but simply because they are very good players and it happened to be their week.

Phil Mickelson won a British Open last year when he was 42. Yes, Woods can win another major and probably will.

But there was a time when ''probably'' wasn't part of the equation.

''I probably would have put every last dollar I had on the gamble that he would break Jack's record pre-2009,'' Graeme McDowell said. ''Now, slightly longer odds. I'm not quite sure I'd put every dollar I had on it now.''

McDowell has seen enough of Woods and the shots he could hit to never rule him out. But he has a good eye for the landscape. McDowell believes 30 percent of the challenge for Woods will be physical and the other 70 percent will be the field. The competition has never been this deep.

What made it tougher on Palmer, more than anything, was the arrival of Nicklaus.

There is no one like Nicklaus – other than Woods, of course – in today's game. Rory McIlroy is the best player in golf when he puts his game all the way back together. But that would be comparing a 24-year-old McIlroy with a 38-year-old Woods who will be coming off the disabled list this summer for the second time in three years.

Callaway, which sponsors Palmer, had made up special golf bags for its players this week with a crown on the side as a tribute to the King and the 50th anniversary of his last Masters. Is it possible that Nike will be doing the same for Woods at the 2058 U.S. Open?

April 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – OK, so Tiger Woods isn’t at the Masters. It’s the first time since 1994 that the game’s biggest draw won’t play Augusta National. But that doesn’t mean that he’s not a hot topic.

Here’s a smattering of comments from top players Tuesday about Woods’ absence this week:

Adam Scott: “It’s a big loss for the tournament any time a world No. 1 is not going to play. It’s a huge loss. But it’s the nature of sports, and guys get injured and it’s an unfortunate timing for that. And you know, like I said, it’s going to be missing the top player in the game.

“But, as every year here, this event produces something special no matter what. It just has a way of doing it, and it’s not going to involve Tiger this year, but it will involve someone else and it will be a memorable event anyway.”

Rory McIlroy: “Having Tiger in a tournament definitely creates more buzz, more of an atmosphere. You know where he is on the course by the crown and the gallery that follows him.

“I think people will miss him at the start of the week, but by the end of the week, when it comes down to who is going to win the golf tournament, there’s going to be a worthy winner and it will produce a lot of excitement.”

Phil Mickelson: “It’s a weird feeling not having him here isn’t it? He’s been such a mainstay in professional golf at the majors. It’s awkward to not have him here. I hope he gets back soon.

“I hope he’s back for the other majors, and as much as I want to win and I know how great he is and tough to beat, it also makes it – it makes it special when he’s in the field and you’re able to win.”

Justin Rose: “It’s a shame for the tournament. I know that people are very excited to watch him play golf. Win, lose or draw, he’s a very big draw for the game. People are eager to see how he’s going to chase down Jack Nicklaus in every major championship. That’s a countdown to that.

“Obviously for him on a personal level, it’s never nice having to watch the tournament when you’re banged up and hurt a little bit. So no doubt it will just fire him up even more for the rest of the year.”

Henrik Stenson: “We all know his record around here. When he’s playing well, he wouldn’t be your No. 1 pick to have breathing down your neck on the back nine at Augusta would he?

“Of course he’s going to be missed at this event and he would’ve been one of the challengers whether he’s playing his absolute best of playing average. You would still not count him out around this golf course.”

April 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – One of the most intriguing groups for Rounds 1 and 2 at the Masters will include Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Reed is already a two-time winner this season on the PGA Tour, Spieth was the 2013 Rookie of the Year and McIlroy emerged from last year’s slump with a victory in December at the Australian Open.

The group will also include some good-natured teasing.

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When asked about the grouping on Tuesday, McIlroy smiled, “There’s going to be no top-5 players in that group.”

Reed caused a stir following his victory last month at the WGC-Cadillac Championship when he declared himself a top-5 player.

To be specific, McIlroy is ranked ninth in the world, Spieth is 13th and Reed is 23rd.

April 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Butch Harmon knows enough about Augusta National and Phil Mickelson to know that when it comes to Lefty and the year’s first major – statistics lie.

For the first time in his career Mickelson will motor down Magnolia Lane without a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour (he did finish second in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour), but Harmon wasn’t concerned with his man’s lack of form.

“It makes no difference what Phil’s record is coming here, he has the imagination to play this golf course,” Harmon said.

Mickelson withdrew from the Valero Texas Open with an ailing back two weeks ago but finished tied for 12th last week in Houston and Harmon said the injury shouldn’t be a factor this week.

“He said last week it was the first time he hadn’t had any pain,” Harmon said.

April 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Phil Mickelson had one of his wishes granted at the Masters this week. Again.

Prior to the 2011 edition of the tournament, when he had returned as a defending champion for the third time, Mickelson spoke about his preference to start with a late tee time at Augusta National.

“I like the latest tee time possible here,” he said at the time. “And the reason is, about 5:00, it seems to just calm down. It seems like any wind that might be out there just seems to subside. It seems very peaceful. And I would love nothing more than to have the last tee time every day.”

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That year, he received the second-to-last tee time of the day at 1:48 p.m. ET. The next year was 1:53 (last tee time) and the year after that was 1:30 (third-to-last).

And this time? If you guessed Mickelson is teeing it up late on Thursday again, you’re right. He’ll play in the second-to-last tee time of the day at 1:48 p.m. alongside Justin Rose and Ernie Els.

April 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – If half the battle to succeeding at the Masters is retaining a positive attitude, then Jimmy Walker already owns an advantage.

During a torrential storm that forced a suspension of Monday’s practice round, Walker maintained that the break might have been a blessing in disguise.

“It's actually pretty nice having the break today, because I was going out and we had a pretty good work session this morning, dialing up a few little things with a little bit of alignment stuff,” he said. “It's kind of nice.”

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As one of two dozen first-timers in this week’s field, Walker doesn’t own much experience here. But the 35-year-old also has trouble seeing himself as a rookie.

“I feel like I'm a pretty seasoned veteran,” he said. “I've been doing this a long time. It is a new golf tournament for me, but I've been doing this a long time.”

April 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – After waiting all these years to play Augusta National together, Craig and Kevin Stadler weren’t disappointed that Monday’s practice round was washed out after only two holes because of rain.

They did, however, have a scoring discrepancy after those two holes.

“It was fine, it happens,” said the father during their duel news conference. “I bogeyed 1 and birdied 2 and he parred, and so I was tied after two, so I was happy.”

That’s where the son chimed in.

Kevin: “That birdie I made on 2 doesn't count, huh?”

Craig: “You didn't make that putt.”

Kevin: “He's paying a lot of attention.”

Craig: “Did you?”

Kevin: “Of course I did.”

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The banter all came with smiles on their faces, as Kevin is competing for the first time with Craig, who won here in 1982.

Neither of them, though, thinks that fact will get in the way of their performances.

“I think everybody is trying to make a distraction out of it other than us,” Craig said. “We're just having a great time being together and … playing another golf tournament. We're like the most undistracted in the world compared to everybody else in this room.”

The elder Stadler also knows which of them is the more likely contender this week.

“I'm just going to be out there slashing around, trying to make the cut and he's going to be trying to win the golf tournament. In that regard, it's a little bit different.”

April 8, 2014

DORAL, Fla. – Tiger Woods might have appeared completely healthy in posting a 6-under 66 on Saturday, but he maintained afterward that his ailing back remains an issue.

“I was pretty sore last night,” he said, “but as I said treatment every day, and my therapists are doing a fantastic job of get me out here and playing.”

WGC-Cadillac Championship leaderboard

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Playing 26 holes to complete his first round and entire second round one day earlier wasn’t easy, either.

Woods said he had to keep moving to stay loose.

“I mean, I was pretty sore. That's one of the reasons why yesterday I ate really quick and got back on that range to keep warm, keep moving and just keep hitting balls, keep moving, keep moving. But then again, at the golf course for nine hours, it's still a long day.”

March 8, 2014

Patrick Reed may be one of the youngest players in the field this week at Trump National Doral, but he’s shown no signs of inexperience through 54 holes. Here’s how things look heading into the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where Reed leads by two:

Leaderboard: Patrick Reed (-4), Hunter Mahan (-2), Jason Dufner (-2), Tiger Woods (-1), Jamie Donaldson (-1), Zach Johnson (Even), Dustin Johnson (Even)

What it means: The leaderboard was a logjam early Saturday, but Reed made a move with an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole and stayed in front for much of the afternoon. He’ll now take a lead into the final round as he looks to win for the third time since August, though the pack chasing him includes the world No. 1, who played his way back into contention with a stellar third round.

Round of the day: Woods carded the low round of the day – and the week – by notching eight birdies en route to a 6-under 66 Saturday. After battling windy conditions over the first two rounds, Woods showed no signs of the strained back that forced him to withdraw from last week’s Honda Classic, instead knocking in putt after putt to climb back into the mix. At 1-under overall, he trails by just three shots as he looks to defend his title at Doral.

Best of the rest: Jimmy Walker displayed the form Saturday that has already netted him three wins this season, as the veteran moved up the standings with a 5-under 67. Walker carded four birdies across a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16 and, despite a double bogey on No. 4, he’ll begin the final round inside the top 10, five shots off the pace.

Biggest disappointment: Rory McIlroy had hopes of erasing last week’s disappointment with a win in Miami, but those aspirations took a hit Saturday as the Ulsterman stumbled to a 3-over 75. McIlroy carded double bogeys on a pair of par 5s Saturday, finding the water at both Nos. 8 and 10, and after challenging for the lead earlier in the week he will tee off Sunday in a tie for 19th at 3 over.

Main storyline heading into Sunday: A former national champion at Augusta State, Reed appears unfazed by the pressure this week in Miami, but battling an elite field Sunday afternoon could prove a tall task. While Woods will begin in a tie for fourth, much of the attention will likely go to the four-time winner at Doral as he looks to rebound from last week’s disappointing withdrawal and end debates over his “slow start” to the 2014 season.

Shot of the day: Reed twice appeared dialed in from long distance Saturday. The first shot came at No. 8, where his approach from 227 yards found the green and led to an eagle. Reed again placed an accurate shot at No. 16 where, coming off a bogey, he drove the green at the short par 4 en route to a two-putt birdie that once again gave him sole possession of the lead.

Quote of the day: "As far as most complete round [of the year], absolutely.” - Woods

March 8, 2014