AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods seemed mildly surprised Tuesday when he was introduced at a press conference as playing the Masters for the 18th time, dating back to when he was the U.S. Amateur champion.
He only made it through two years at Stanford, but he's pretty good at math.
"I've spent just about half my life playing this tournament," said Woods, who turned 36 in December.
Not quite, but point taken.
Over the years, he has learned from some of the best. One of his first practice rounds was with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who have 10 green jackets between them. He also has played with Greg Norman and Jose Maria Olazabal, along with Mark O'Meara.
"I'm trying to gain as much intel as I possibly can," Woods said of the practice round with Nicklaus and Palmer. "And I'm asking them on every hole, 'What do you do here? What do you do here? What do you do here?' And I'm pretty sure they got sick of me."
As much information as he gained, Woods has been generous sharing. For years, he would often play with some of the amateurs who wanted to tap into brain and figure out the nuances of Augusta National.
Woods played Tuesday with Sean O'Hair.
"We were talking about the golf course and what flag you fire at and where you want to miss it to this flag, where do you hit over the green, blah, blah, blah," he said. "I help him as much as I possibly can, and we're playing together tomorrow. He wants some more advice on the other nine holes. Obviously, I had something good to say, I guess."
That's one thing that sets golf apart.
It is not unusual for players to offer tips, or share something they see in someone's swing on the practice range, even if they're trying to beat that guy during the week.
"I think it's just the role of being here as a champion, and being here a number of years, is that you pass knowledge on," Woods said. "It's not something that we hold and are going to keep sacred. We pass it on from one generation to the next."
But maybe not everything.
Phil Mickelson has made it a habit of taking younger players out for practice rounds, and he's not bashful about showing them the dangers of various hole locations or the best angle to attack — but joked there's a limit.
"First of all, you only share a little bit," Mickelson said to laughter. "And you want them to know that you've got an advantage."
FRINGE PLAYER: Luke Donald is contemplating a new way to handle shots that are just off the green — using a driver.
Donald said it gets delicate just off the green. There's a bit of dew in the morning, and the ball glides through the grass easier. In the afternoon, when conditions are dryer, he said the grass is more sticky and slows a putt.
"I've experimented a little bit with actually using a driver around the greens," he said. "A lot of people use rescue (clubs), 3-woods, sometimes putters. But I just found the driver had the perfect loft, that it was able to go through the grass a little bit.
"Whether I'll use it this year or not, I'm not sure, but certainly something I've been playing around with."
CHAMPIONS BARBECUE: The Champions Dinner at the Masters on Tuesday night has featured a range of food, with the defending champion in charge of the menu. Bernhard Langer served wiener schnitzel and spaetzle. Ben Crenshaw had beef brisket. Vijay Singh went with chicken panang curry.
This year will feature something really different.
Monkey gland sauce.
"It's got nothing related to the name," Charl Schwartzel said. "There's no monkey, and there's no gland."
The South African said the sauce is familiar at restaurants in his home country, where it is used on meats. He said it was a chutney Worcester sauce with some onion, and it's rather tasty.
"I had the chef yesterday bring me a sample, and even he said he was a bit surprised," Schwartzel said. "He was a bit suspicious about it and he tasted it, and he said, 'Yeah, it's good sauce that you just put over your meat.'"
Schwartzel did not do the cooking, a story he said was taken out of context.
South Africans rarely let a weekend go by without a braai — their word for barbecue — and he asked if he could do the cooking.
"I had made a suggestion, if I could maybe cook the meat," he said. "But then they explained to me that it's only a little short time and you mix with all of the guys. And then I realized, I don't really want to do it because then I'm not going to get to talk to everyone. I don't want to get too much oil on my green jacket, either."
HONORARY STARTER: Gary Player played in 52 consecutive Masters, and won the green jacket three times. He remembers driving through the gates of Augusta National for the first time as a young man in 1957, and most every big shot he ever played in the tournament.
Now he may be the most excited honorary starter in Masters history.
Player said he has been working toward Thursday's start of the Masters ever since learning he would become an honorary starter for the first time. He plans to watch carefully to see who hits the longest tee shot when he, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial first shots.
"Absolutely," Player said. "We've been very competitive."
They were once golf's Big Three, though Player was always No. 3 in the lineup. He was No. 1, though, when it came to keeping fit, and he still works as hard at being healthy as he did during his prime.
"I've been training very hard," Player said. "I've just come from the gym right now, in fact. I increased my sit ups and my weights."
The 76-year-old Player was named an honorary starter last summer. Like Palmer, who is 82, and the 72-year-old Nicklaus, he will play just his tee shot on No. 1, then retire to the clubhouse.
Still, he was thrilled for the opportunity to return to a course where he had such success and a tournament he holds so dear. He will also play with Palmer and Nicklaus in the par-3 contest on Wednesday.
"Playing with Arnold and Jack there, just, you know, it's coming to an end; and if you want to say our lives, our careers, it's the sunset," he said. "To be able to replay, it's like having a mulligan. And to be playing with them and things come back in your mind and being together and enjoying it with the people, it's a special time."
Player might be the favorite in his threesome. He shot a 66 last year and said he has been beating his age by an average of five shots every time he goes out.
SUPERSTITIOUS LUKE: Luke Donald tried to do what no man has ever at Augusta National — win the Par 3 Contest on Wednesday, and slip on a green jacket on Sunday. He only got the first part of the equation right, however, but his rally on the back nine came up short and he tied for fourth.
Donald only is thinking about the green jacket this year.
"I've decided this year I'm not going to play the Par 3," he said with a grin. "Last year, I actually had a very focused goal of trying to win both of them, and it was something that I wanted to do — something that was different, to try and defy convention I suppose. And I almost did it. I had a good chance at winning both. But this year, I'm just going to concentrate on the main one."
So does he believe in the Par 3 jinx?
"No, just the fact that my focus is on winning the other one," he said. "As fun as it is, I will probably play it when my kids get a little older. I think it's a great experience to take out my daughters to come carry a few clubs around with me."