For fall Masters, change comes to a tradition like no other

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With no spectators in attendance, members of media and officials watch as Tiger Woods tees off on the third hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The pimiento cheese sandwiches are still here, and so is the Hogan Bridge over Rae’s Creek. So much else has changed at Augusta National this week, when the first fall Masters will be held without many of the traditions that make it a tradition unlike any other.

The azaleas have long since bloomed, the galleries will be sparse and even the green jacket presentation ceremony in Butler Cabin will look a little different for the pandemic-delayed tournament that tees off on Thursday — seven months after originally scheduled. The biggest change: With the course closed to the public, the roar of the crowds will be silenced and many of the fan-pleasing entertainment will be skipped.

“We all miss the energy of the crowds. And yes, this year is going to be very different,” defending champion Tiger Woods said. “It’s one that none of us have ever experienced. So we’re all going to go through it together at the same time. It’s going to be a very different experience, and hopefully one that I can figure it out and be able to replicate what I did last year."

With COVID-19 still raging in Georgia and spiking across much of the country, tournament organizers canceled the Par 3 Contest, usually held on the Wednesday of tournament week and a draw for the practice round galleries.

Another tradition diminished without fans: golfers trying to skip their shots across the surface of the pond in front of the 16th green. Some players gave it a go — Jon Rahm notched a hole-in-one — but many more didn't see the point without fans egging them on.

“I don’t think it will quite have the same effect if (caddie Mick Donaghy) is asking me to do it," Tyrrell Hatton said. “I think we’ll leave that one for next April, hoping that, obviously, we’ll have fans here again.”

The Masters Club Dinner hosted by the defending champion went on, but it was moved from the second-floor library to the Trophy Room downstairs to allow for more spacing.

Club Chairman Fred Ridley, who traditionally slips the green jacket over the winner's shoulders on Sunday, said the presentation in Butler Cabin will go on, but with a little more social distancing than usual. The ceremony on the putting green — which is mainly for the fans at the course — won’t happen.