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Perspective hard to find at hype-filled Augusta

IF the course had been any more ravishing in the warm spring sunshine, if it had given us any more of the colour and the perfume of the American south, we might have been persuaded there was quite a good chance of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara strolling through the dogwoods.

As it is, though, the 76th US Masters is for the moment, at least, suggesting not so much Gone with the Wind as quite a serious case of lost perspective.

Already the leading American magazine Sports Illustrated has announced that last year's 75th edition - when Rory McIlroy was placed on a spit, the Tiger made a menacing charge and Charl Schwartzel, an amiable and extremely understated farmer from the high veldt, came home with an unprecedented run of birdies on the last four holes - was the greatest Masters of all.

Some here are now claiming that the one that starts on Thursday morning, and will be launched appropriately by the ceremonial first shot-makers Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer, will be even better.

Heaven knows it has extraordinary potential, with the Tiger and the closest approach to the precocious genius he represented when he emerged 15 years ago, McIlroy, at its competitive heart and with at least six other heavyweight contenders all in dazzling shape but, really, the greatest ever?

One sure-fire caution against such a projection will be the appearance of Nicklaus, Player and Palmer, who for a whole generation came to be seen as the three horsemen of golfing apocalypse. All three were ultimate competitors, all of them brought off victories here which anyone who saw them knew instantly would never die.

As it happens, one of those amazing statements of will came precisely 50 years ago. The 26th Masters was great not because of the beauty of Palmer's play. At times it was anything but that.

He shot a 75 to reach a Monday play-off with Dow Finsterwald and Player. In it, he found himself floundering again, he was trailing by three shots when he walked on to the 10th tee.


He then swept to four straight birdies for a four-shot lead. It was his third Green Jacket in five years. It is one of a few things to think about as the current frenzy moves up a notch each day.

According to Sports Illustrated, last year's Masters was the greatest because it gave us the full sweep of the game's emotions.

Now, the belief is that these elements will be compounded in the next few days by the evidence that Woods is in his strongest position since his game - and his life - first began to erode so catastrophically at the Open at Turnberry in 2009.

Tiger had come to look almost as vulnerable as the 21-year-old McIlroy here last year, but both appear handsomely healed.

So let's accept that there is more than a little potential to make one of the great tournaments - but one to impinge on or even obliterate the shot by Gene Sarazen that shook the world, or the Tiger's first dramatic eruption or Nicklaus's victory in 1986 at the age of 46?

Not in another thousand years, surely not.