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Crenshaw amazed by "wide open" Masters

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Twice champion Ben Crenshaw will tee off in his 41st Masters on Thursday and the 60-year-old American cannot recall a more wide open edition of the season's first major.

"There are just so many players who are very keen and playing well at the moment," the silver-haired Crenshaw told Reuters on Wednesday under the iconic oak tree in front of the clubhouse at Augusta National.

"You obviously have to look at Tiger (Woods), Phil (Mickelson) and Rory (McIlroy) ... they're all in form. And I'd like to see Lee Westwood break through. He's played well enough in lots of majors.

"I could go on and on about possible winners. I don't know how Adam Scott could play any better than he did last year," Crenshaw said of Scott's runner-up finish. "He made the putts that he needed to at the right times.

"There are so many young players now who can play the game at such an outstanding level. Last year's finish was an example of that. We had six players who could have all won."

Northern Ireland's McIlroy, then aged 21, began the final round with a four-shot advantage before imploding on his way to an ugly closing 80.

"Of those six players who could have won, there were four of them that maybe the public did not really know but they proved themselves unbelievably under this pressure," Crenshaw added.

"Then you had the way last year unfurled with Rory McIlroy playing as well as he did for the first three rounds and the way that he did not play well on the Sunday but how he then handled all of that.

"With his win at the U.S. Open two months later, he really put his stamp on the game and many people now know what a brilliant golfer he is. I know that he is extremely keen to right his ship this year here."

EMOTIONAL VICTORY

The soft-spoken Texan never tires of returning to Augusta National, the spiritual home of American golf which is affectionately regarded as the 'Cathedral of Pines'.

"It feels special whenever I come back here," said Crenshaw, who made his Masters debut in 1972. "With all the trees, there is no other golf course where you can have the sound reverberate like it does here.

"You have to think your way around the course and do it in spots where you feel a little nervous or a little jittery. That's a very difficult thing. Sometimes you have to catch yourself.

"There are spots out on this course where you can succeed spectacularly but you can also spectacularly fail."

Augusta National is mainly feared because of its notoriously difficult and heavily contoured greens. For Crenshaw, the biggest danger from that is succumbing to temptation by playing attacking golf.

"It's a very hard thing to school your mind to not do that," said the American, who dedicated his 1995 Masters victory to his mentor Harvey Penick, who had died a week earlier.

"You want to go at everything (attack pins) and they tempt you here, they tempt you here like no other place. If you're on your game, you want to go for it but it's tough."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)