Roars silenced but Masters hopeful for 2021 fans return

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


There will be no spectators at this week's Masters due to Covid-19 safety measures, but golfers and Augusta National officials hope roars once again echo across the course in 2021.

The deadly pandemic that postponed the tournament from April will rob some of the electric atmosphere from Sunday's back nine, even though a dramatic battle for the green jacket remains likely, maybe even with Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy chasing history.

"Patrons do make this week a little bit more special," said second-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm.

"Definitely back nine on Sunday, it will be missed. When people start making birdies and eagles, it's electric. You can feel the difference in each roar. You know if it's a Tiger roar or a somebody else roar. You know what's going on."

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley isn't expecting a vaccine to be ready before the second of back-to-back majors under the Georgia pines tees off next April.

"We would need to see objective data that would give us a high level of confidence that we could bring large numbers of people onto the grounds for April," Ridley said.

"A vaccine, while it will be wonderful when it happens, there's going to be ramp-up time and all kinds of issues that will probably point to beyond April as being the silver bullet, if you will."

What might help allow a limited number of spectators onto Augusta National is a testing breakthrough.

"As relates to testing, there are some real opportunities there," Ridley said. "That would certainly be a wonderful circumstance if we could test large numbers of people.

"We're on the verge of perhaps having a vaccine, and these rapid tests are just incredible innovations, so I'm very optimistic."

Ridley said there has never been greater effort to stage a Masters than this year and added, "We do have hopes the tournament in April will be closer to normal than it is right now."

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is amazed at the view with no stands, guide ropes or people.

"It's weird," Koepka said. "Now you get to the first tee and you can see everything."

As third-ranked Justin Thomas put it, "It sucks without fans but it sucks a lot less than if we weren't even playing the tournament."

Defending champion Woods, chasing a sixth green jacket and 16th major title, credited the crowd for helping him win last year.

"The support that I had, the energy that was around the property, it was electric," Woods said. "We all miss the energy of the crowds."

Four-time major winner McIlroy, who would complete a career Grand Slam with a Masters victory, says absent fans won't open much space for shotmaking.

"The lies are maybe a little bit better around where the patrons would sit and stand, but not really," he said. "It's the same golf course. You're always trying to look inside where the people would be standing anyway."

Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson never let people get in the way of a shot.

"Whether people are off in the rough or not, it has really never stopped me from hitting it there," he said. "That's not going to be an issue. It does feel different but that's given."

- Roars make you 'amped' -

Tony Finau says players might not be as intense without the roars.

"You don't have to calm yourself down as much. Just the noise makes you a little more amped. That's not the case when nobody is out here," Finau said.

"We're going to miss the patrons' energy, especially down the back nine. But we know what we're playing for. We'll still have the juices flowing, no question."

But without spectators, the Masters champion won't have a jacket ceremony on the 18th green.

And he won't have the thrill of a cheering crowd for every decisive, spectacular shot to keep as a memory forever.

"I'll live with those wonderful cheers the rest of my life," said two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.

"The hills and change in elevation only amplifies the cheers. It's eerie. The acoustics here, there's no place like it."