AUGUSTA, Ga.

Early this evening, some fortunate golfer will be overwhelmed as he accepts the lavish, coveted, valuable prize. And the $1.35 million-plus first-place check won't be bad, either.

Only at the Masters is a million bucks a nice little afterthought. The truth is, when players think about winning here at Augusta National, they dream of putting on the green jacket valued at $250 (not that anyone would have the nerve to wear that color out in public).

Ian Poulter, the current golfer most closely identified with clothes because of the bright outfits he wears and endorses, was asked after he finished Friday tied for first which color goes best with the shade officially known as Masters green.

"Absolutely anything," he said.

That is the way all golfers feel about the outerwear that has become one of the great icons of triumph, right up there with the Stanley Cup.

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"It's a tradition. You don't do that in many other places," said Jack Nicklaus, who has won a record six green jackets. "We have jackets at other clubs, not all of them, but some. But none really relates to the tradition of here."

No one busts their brass buttons over winning the gray blazer Nicklaus presents at his Memorial Tournament. No champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational wears his new blue jacket on the "Tonight Show" or the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (as Phil Mickelson did with his Masters green jacket).

Golf people are as likely to use the phrase "so-and-so won the green jacket" as "so-and-so won the Masters." The jacket's stature has soared since members were first asked to wear them during the 1937 Masters so patrons could easily spot them, basically the way ushers wear distinctive jackets at ballgames.

Neither the tournament's official history nor common folklore explains who chose that particular color or why. Fashion experts say it is officially shade No. 342, known commonly as hunter green and seen on team uniforms of Cleveland State, Colorado State and the national flag of Turkmenistan.

What is certain is that the first ones were purchased from Brooks Uniform Company in New York. Four firms have made the jackets, with the last one on record being Hamilton Tailoring Co. of Cincinnati - using a 500-yard roll of wool cloth bought from the Victor Forstmann Inc. mill in Dublin, Ga. - but the club has seriously discouraged the clothier from talking.

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The journey to fame began in 1949, when Sam Snead became the first champion to receive one as a prize. Since then, the jacket has become an object of intense pride for members, as well as golfers. Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann, apparently a new member, accepted congratulations this week as he stood near the clubhouse in his green jacket.

Augusta defines itself as a city in part by the jacket. The minor-league baseball team, now a San Francisco Giants affiliate in the Class A South Atlantic League, changed its name in 1994 from Pirates to GreenJackets.

Even casual golf fans are familiar with the customs: The previous Masters champion puts the jacket on the new winner. In the event that someone wins twice in a row, the tournament chairman does the honors. A jacket borrowed from a member is used for the ceremony, before a specifically tailored one is ready. The winner gets to keep it for a year, then wears it annually at the champions dinner.

"Each year when I come here, I never know which jacket to put on because I never know what size I'm going to be," Nicklaus said. He repeated the story about never having had the tailored one after his first win in 1963, borrowing one from former U.S. presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, not saying anything until 1997 and finally getting a tailored green jacket in 1998.

Other lore: Gary Player once neglected to return it after a year, Tiger Woods slept in it the first time he won it, Canadian Mike Weir wore it to center ice at a Maple Leafs game, Trevor Immelman saw fans reduced to tears when they saw him with it at a Japanese airport.

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There aren't the wacky pranks associated with the Stanley Cup because a) you can't drink out of a jacket and b) there is unique reverence for the green jacket.

Poulter said he will wear hot pink tartan pants with a white top Sunday. "It will," he said, "clash very nicely."