Masters rookie Jimmy Walker of the U.S. hits from the sand on the second hole during a practice round ahead of the 2014 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia April 9, 2014. Photo by Brian Snyder, Reuters.
AUGUSTA, Georgia - An impressive 2014 class of debutants descends on Augusta National Golf Club, with two dozen hopefuls yearning to become the first player in 35 years to win the Masters on his first crack.
Not since Fuzzy Zoeller won in his initial Masters in 1979 has a first-time player solved the fast-sloping greens, tricky winds and pine tree lined fairways to register victory.
Rookies including Jordan Spieth, Victor Dubuisson, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker, with seven PGA Tour wins among them, look to debunk conventional wisdom that experience rules at Augusta National.
Spieth, who beat 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson in a playoff at last year's John Deere Classic to become the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in 82 years, sounded an optimistic note.
"I think it's anybody's tournament to win on Tuesday and Wednesday, so if I can get my game ready and play to the right spots and play smart golf and play my A Game, then I believe that I have a chance just like I think anybody else here does," said 20-year-old Spieth.
Reed, who proclaimed himself among the top five golfers in the world after winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship last month for his third win in 14 tournaments, is predictably confident.
"I feel like with the competition these days, that whoever is playing the best, whether you have experience or don't, is going to pull off a victory," Reed, 23, told reporters.
The only other first-time players to win the Masters were of the Masters was inaugural champion Horton Smith in 1934 and Gene Sarazen, the winner in 1935.
This group of rookies may have the credentials to challenge for the green jacket.
Fourteen of the two dozen first-timers rank among the top 60 players in the world and they have 24 PGA Tour titles already to their credit.
Spieth is highest ranked at number 13 among a Masters rookie contingent that features Frenchman Dubuisson (ranked 21), Reed (23) and Walker (24), who also boasts three PGA Tour wins, taken over a five-month stretch.
One year after Adam Scott became the first Australian winner of the Masters, compatriots Steve Bowditch and Matt Jones booked their first trip to the championship with tour wins in the past month.
Bowditch triumphed in San Antonio and one week later, Jones followed suit. "I saw Bowdo win," Jones told reporters. "And I thought, 'Why couldn't that be me' the week of Houston, which luckily enough it was."
Spieth has received some counsel about the perils of Augusta from fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters winner.
"There's just angles that are so important," Spieth said about tactics at Augusta National.
"The par-fives, they give you so much room, mainly on the right sides of those holes for a reason, and you need to take advantage of it. You can't play it like a normal golf course, I don't think.
"The greens are just so diabolical that you have to really think your shots into them. And when you're on the tee, you need to know where that pin is, because it even affects the tee shot on where you're playing that ball.
"So there's just more thought that goes into it on this course. And then I think the most amazing thing about this place isn't the layouts or the humps here and there - it's the subtleties of the straight putts and the pull of Rae's Creek."
Even with all that and more to consider, Spieth and the others are just plain happy to be competing.
"This is heaven on earth to us," said Spieth. "This is a tournament I've grown up watching and always dreamt and still continue to dream of winning some day.
"Whether that's a few days from now or years in the future, hopefully one day I can have that green jacket."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)