Fiery Augusta to test the best as Masters returns to traditional slot

By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Augusta National will present a solid and fiery test for the first round, at least if the 85th Masters starts on Thursday with spectators but without Tiger Woods.
With fans back in limited numbers after their absence from the unique Fall Masters last November due to coronavirus concerns, the sport's most exclusive grand championship returns to its traditional, colorful spring time window.
There was hardly a cloud in the sky for the whole week, so the conditions hardened and dried up, so the staff soaked some greens by hand on Wednesday as most of the 88-man field completed one final training lap.
Possible rain on Friday, and likely Saturday, could literally and figuratively dampen things as the business end of the tournament unfolds.
"I think we have the golf course where we want it. It plays tight and fast and not just the greens but the fairways as well," said Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National on Wednesday.
"The ball really rolls ... Our intent would be to keep that going all week. In the past we might have started a little soft and then got firmer over the week and vice versa, and last year we were pretty soft those." whole week. "
The conditions should keep anyone from getting anywhere near the record low of 20 under par 268 set by 2020 champion Dustin Johnson.
He returns as one of the top fantasies, vying for preference with his American compatriots Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
Brooks Koepka, the dominant force in the game not so long ago, will play despite the recent knee surgery. He has not competed in more than a month and the state of his game is difficult to assess.
International players make up more than half of the field and Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy's interest in finishing the career grand slam of all four majors will remain high.
However, its shape has been inconsistent recently.
Notably absent is Woods, two years after his 15th major title, and the fifth Green Jacket at the age of 43.
He sustained serious leg injuries in a car accident in February and is recovering at home in Florida.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, Editing by Ed Osmond)
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