Down memory lane with Tiger Woods in the distance before the start of the 2008 Masters at the picturesque Augusta National. Photo: AFP/Timothy A. Clary

Bobby Jones is an unlikely sporting god. The son of an Atlanta lawyer, he became a golfing great when he won the game’s holy grail, a magical Grand Slam in 1930, as an amateur player.

By winning the British Open, the US Open and both amateur championships in the States and the UK, he stood on the very pinnacle of Mount Olympus.

Taking in the rarified atmosphere among the immortals, he promptly retired from competitive golf two months later at only 28 to concentrate on his legal practice without earning a dime from the “pastime” he loved.

“It [tournament play] is something like a cage. First, you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But, of course, nobody can stay there,” he said.

Yet the Jones legend will never die. Nor will his testament to golf, the “closest game to the game we call life.”

In The Masters’ tournament at the incredible Augusta National, his spirit stalks every fairway and his legacy strides across every green.

On Thursday, the course he helped create will host the opening leg of the modern-day version of the Grand Slam, which now includes his “baby” The Masters and the USPGA Championship.

These Majors to professionalism have long since replaced the relics of the past, the two amateur championships.

After all, the sport is now an industry and generates US$84 billion in the United States alone, according to Forbes.

Lush fairways

But when the elite walk out on the lush fairways at Augusta for the opening round, they will not be thinking of greenbacks, just that exclusive green jacket which every Masters’ winner is presented with.

They really are just “material boys, living in a material world.”

Yet there is still a place for the Corinthian, the part-time warrior of the woods and irons.

At just 20 years old, Takumi Kanaya will be one of six amateurs competing at Augusta.

“I’m so happy to come here,” he said after guaranteeing his place at The Masters after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur tournament in October.

“I’m so excited. It’s a dream I’ve had since I was little to play in the Masters,” Kanaya told a media briefing with the help of an interpreter.

Fairytales have a habit of being played out at sultry Augusta, but probably not for a 750-1 Japanese outsider. Even so, they do exist.

Two years ago, Spaniard Sergio Garcia had four days sprinkled with stardust.

At the ripe old age of 37, he finally lived up to his billing of being heir to the late great Seve Ballesteros after beating England’s Justin Rose in a dramatic play-off to snatch his first Major title.

Twelve months later, the scene of such poetry in motion turned into water torture during Garcia’s opening round when he carded an octuple-bogey 13 at the 15th hole.

Augusta, at times, can be unforgiving.

“I made a 13 without missing a shot,” he said after struggling to keep the ball on dry land. “I hit a lot of good shots, and unfortunately the ball just didn’t want to stop.

“With the firmness of the greens, I felt like the ball was going to stop, and unfortunately, for whatever reason, it didn’t want to,” he added.

Sparring partner

This year, his old sparring partner Rose is one of the favorites and the world’s No 1.

The 2013 US Open champion has finished second in two of the past four Masters and is arguably at the peak of his prowess at 38.

Pulling on the green jacket on Sunday would ease the heartache of being so close, yet so far away.

“I have won as the world No 1, in San Diego in January, which was important for me,” Rose, who picked up his 24th professional title at the Farmers Insurance Open, said. “But clearly to win a Major as world No 1 would be even more fantastic.”

Nine years younger and ranked No 3 in the world is Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy with his blend of power and poise. Americans Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, with three Masters to his name, are other contenders.

Still, many will be hoping it will be the year of the Tiger.

With 14 Major championships in his golf bag, including four Augusta titles, Tiger Woods is back and finally fighting fit after undergoing spinal fusion surgery, which ended years of injury problems.

Now in his 40s, he is more than capable of conjuring another spell-binding performance by turning the clock back to yesteryears. But to do that, he will need to heed Bobby Jones’ words of wisdom.

“Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears,” he was fond of saying. Perfect or should that be par-fect.

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