This year's Masters Tournament is going to be different. No one can deny that. And, of course, it will be very much the same. That's the beauty of the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club. So many traditions are preserved.
For the first time since 1954, Arnold Palmer will not be in attendance. The four-time winner passed away in September at the age of 87, and it's very likely that there will be tributes to golf's King.
"His absence will definitely be felt," said 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson.
But, of course, even though Palmer will not be there for the ceremonial tee shots -- he was a spectator last year -- the other two members of golf's immortal Big Three will still be swinging away. Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, the Founder and Host of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, are scheduled to get things going on April 6. Player won three green jackets, while the Golden Bear owns a record six of them.
When it comes to the tournament proper, the first major championship of the year is full of major intrigue because a clear favorite is difficult to identify.
Sure, Dustin Johnson is the No. 1 player in the world, a station he acquired after winning the Genesis Open in February. The reigning U.S. Open champion has been on a roll, but he'll have to contend with the usual suspects including Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, all whom have been No. 1 in the world in the past few years. Spieth has finished 2-1-2 in his three Masters appearances, an impressive start.
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan has risen to No. 5 in the world with his fine play the last six months. The 2014 Memorial Tournament winner can't be overlooked. Neither can Justin Thomas, who started 2017 with back-to-back wins in Hawaii.
The defending champion is Danny Willett of England, whose final-round 67 last year propelled him past Spieth.
Former Memorial Tournament winners in the field include South Africa's Ernie Els, the 2012 British Open Champion, who might be playing in the Masters for the last time. "This could be my swan song," the Big Easy told reporters recently. He won the 2004 Memorial Tournament.
Other players heading to Augusta who won at Muirfield Village Golf Club are Jim Furyk (2002 winner), Justin Rose (2010), Steve Stricker (2011), Matt Kuchar (2013), Fred Couples (1998) and five-time Memorial winner Tiger Woods. Though he has been sidelined by on-going back problems, Woods said recently he had not yet given up hope of playing in this year's tournament. Nonetheless, as a four-time Masters winner, he'll attend the Champions Dinner, as will Couples.
Rose, by the way, is the first Masters qualifier via his victory in the Olympics last year in Rio de Janeiro. He is the first Gold Medalist in golf in the Olympics since 1904.