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GRASS NOT ALWAYS GREENER AT MASTERS

Grass not always greener at Masters

In his 19 years covering the Masters, Jim Nantz has played the links at Augusta National many times, as he says, "without great distinction."

Part of the reason why, he says, are the finely manicured greens. "(The average player) would be absolutely mortified by the speed of the greens," says Nantz, who will call the action alongside Lanny Wadkins when CBS broadcasts the third and final rounds of the Masters, Saturday and next Sunday. USA Network airs the first two rounds Thursday and Friday.

"Go down to your local ice rink and bring your putter with you, and see if you can stop the ball from 10 feet away," he says. "It is just the touch, the feel you have to have in your hands. And then as you walk around and see the green speed and attempt to conquer it, you then factor in what these great players must face with the pressure of trying to win a major championship. You can't help but be shaking and quaking, and you feel the touch, you feel the pressure. All of it is right there with the connection with the club through the hands.

"So it takes a tremendous amount of mental strength to be able to hold up on a Sunday at Augusta. If you were to ever have a casual round of golf at Augusta and you could somehow bring your mind to a Sunday round at Augusta, you wouldn't believe how these players were able to handle it with such aplomb."

This year, Nantz marks his 20th anniversary covering the season's first major from the golf oasis in Augusta, Ga. During that time, he has watched the emergence of Tiger Woods with his decisive win in 1997; seen his former college roommate, Fred Couples, bag a green jacket in 1992; and witnessed Jack Nicklaus win his sixth and final Masters in 1986.

As for whom to watch at this year's tournament, Nantz's picks include the usual suspects. "It's not just Tiger alone anymore," he says. "It's Vijay Singh . . . coming off a phenomenal 2004. You've got Phil (Mickelson, the defending Masters champ), based on his performances on the West Coast -- back-to-back wins, two course records, playing now with the freedom of already having won a major, not having to face that overwhelming task of trying to win the first one with everyone reminding you at every turn that you haven't won one before.

"You've got Ernie Els, who's had a number of close brushes at Augusta, but hasn't been able to win a green jacket. Certainly, he seems like a guy who is destined to win the Masters more than once."

Also not to be overlooked, Nantz says, are Davis Love III, David Toms, Retief Goosen and 24-year-old Adam Scott, of whom Nantz says, "you look at his swing, it looks technically like a game without flaw. . . . He's definitely going to be a force in the game for the next 20 years."

Years that will most likely include Nantz behind the mike at the Masters.