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Posted October 16, 2020, 4:15 pm
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Sunlight will be precious commodity at Augusta National for 2020 Masters

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Daniel Berger shouldn’t take it personally he’s not playing in next month’s Masters.

The powers-that-be at Augusta National would prefer to have the world’s 13th-ranked player in the field (along with No. 29 Viktor Hovland and No. 37 Harris English, a Georgia resident).

COVID-19 and the rotation of the sun won’t allow it.

And this situation will make this Masters even stranger to watch.

It will be weird enough to see the Masters played in mid-November, in front of no spectators, on a course that won’t be popping with its usual horticultural highlights.

Traditionalists also won’t be thrilled when they realize we’re looking at three days of two-tee starts, two days of morning and afternoon waves and their precious tournament actually serving as a lead-in to other sports programming during the weekend.

When the Masters was scheduled its usual spot on the second weekend in April, 96 players had qualified for the season’s first major – the first of the four majors to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While the field size is a little on the high side – an average of 93.3 players have qualified during the last decade – it’s the perfect size under these circumstances. Ninety-six equates to 32 groupings of 32 players and, even better, 16 groupings of six players.

If Masters officials added the threesome of Berger, Hovlak and English – and anyone else who qualified for the Masters after the field was frozen – they likely would have needed night-vision goggles to finish the round.

Here’s why: There was an average of 12 hours, 53 minutes of sunlight during April 9-12 in Augusta, Georgia, when the Masters was originally to have been held. But, with spring turning to fall and Daylight Savings Time ending on Nov. 1, that number shrinks to a daily average of 10 hours, 27½ minutes from Nov. 12-15.

That’s almost 10 hours of lost sunlight during the tournament – the equal of nine holes of golf per day at one of the world’s most beguiling courses.

The last time the Masters’ field was 96 players, in 2010, tee times for the 32 groups in the first two rounds started at 7:50 a.m. and ended at 1:53 p.m. Those had 11-minute breaks between the groups and two “starters times” to ease congestion on the course.

Those tee times won’t work at this Masters because it gets dark around 5:25 p.m. the first two days. Not even Nick Price, who was one of the world’s best and fastest players, can play a round in 3½ hours at Augusta in a threesome.

That means two things: Not only will the Masters have to resort to the dreaded two-tee start for the first two rounds, it also will have to implement morning/afternoon waves. Masters officials would likely have two waves of eight threesomes off both tees.

Good luck to the rookies in the field. Nobody wants to start their round on the difficult, downhill, left-sloping 10th hole and then it’s hello, Amen Corner.

The world’s best players aren’t used to going “early-late” with their tee times at the Masters, like they do at virtually every PGA Tour stop such as the Honda Classic. At Augusta, they’re used to going late, later and really late.

The next issue is the size of the field after the 36-hole cut that’s traditionally divided into twosomes and sent off the first tee. The post-cut field size has averaged 55.5 players during the last decade.

The last time 55 players made the cut, in 2015, the first tee time was 10:05 a.m. and the last one was 2:55 p.m., with 10-minute intervals and two starters times. That means this year’s tee times for the third round would have to be moved back at least 90 minutes to get the final pairing in before the 5:26 p.m. sunset.

That will be the only day of a traditional first-hole start of twosomes. CBS will be off the air by 6 to prepare for its Alabama-Auburn telecast.

Sunday’s final round becomes even more problematic because of the possibility of a sudden-death playoff and CBS is committed to televising an NFL game at 4:05 p.m. The Masters would likely shoot for a 3 p.m. regulation finish, but there’s not enough daylight in the morning to move the tee times as earlier as needed.

The Masters thus would have to go back to a double-tee start of threesomes for the final round, a single wave, with the first group likely at 8:40 a.m. and the last group at 10:20 a.m.

We may have to wait until the back nine on Sunday for the Masters to begin, as the adage goes, but we won’t have to wait as long in the day to witness that history.

Of course, last year the Masters for the first time went to a two-tee, threesomes start in the final round because thunderstorms were expected to hit the course in the early afternoon. The only familiar thing about last year’s final round was seeing Tiger Woods slip on another green jacket.

Craig Dolch is a freelance golf writer who worked for decades at the Plam Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter @craigdolch.