THE TOP STORY LINES

1. Tiger Woods' absence for the first time in 20 years. "I've told him in person many times that he could putt the greens blindfolded. He knows the course that well," Masters chairman Billy Payne said. "We miss him very much."

2. Record 24 first-time participants, each trying to be the first rookie to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

3. Adam Scott tries to become the first repeat winner since Woods in 2002.

4. Phil Mickelson's attempt to tie Arnold Palmer and Woods with a fourth green jacket.

5. A wide-open field. Rory McIlroy said any of 70 players could win.

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DUSTIN JOHNSON'S SUPPORT SYSTEM

1. Fiancee Paulina Gretzky, whose lightly clad appearance on the cover of Golf Digest raised controversy among LPGA pros who pointed out they never get such publicity.

2. Future father-in-law, known as The Great One, scored 894 NHL goals.

3. Younger brother Austin, who caddies for him. Austin said he is not shy about giving advice: "He can't fire me from being his brother, that's for sure."

4. Various other relatives. "We grew up in Columbia , only about an hour away," Austin said.

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FIRST-TIMERS WORTH WATCHING

1. Patrick Reed: Cheeky guy declared himself one of the top five in the world after winning at Doral. "With the competition these days, whoever is playing the best, whether you have experience or don't, is going to pull off a victory," the former Augusta State star said.

2. Jimmy Walker: Veteran, 35, finally won on the PGA Tour this season, then won twice more. An accomplished amateur celestial photographer, he is used to aiming high. Of a rookie wearing a green jacket, he said, "I don't see why not."

3. Jordan Spieth: Won the John Deere Classic in a playoff last July, before his 20th birthday. Smart enough to spend time this week with Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson, whom he called "Mr. Crenshaw" and "Mr. Watson."

4. Harris English: Georgia native has played the course four times with the University of Georgia team and has been here as a spectator. "There are 24 guys playing here for the first time this year and I think it's a really strong group," he said.

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5. Steven Bowditch: He could be one of the all-time comeback stories. Suffered from depression and once tried to take his own life, but is inspiring to others for getting back on track. "Great family life," he said, explaining how he got through down times. "You play for more than yourself."

TRENDING UPWARD

1. Australians: They have won three of the past four PGA Tour events and have the defending champion here.

2. Matt Jones, in particular: One of the Aussies, he earned his way Sunday with a chip-in playoff victory in Houston, and scored a hole-in-one during the Par 3 Contest yesterday.

3. Jason Day: Yet another Aussie, he has repeatedly come close in the majors. He won the Accenture Match Play this year. The caveat is his injured thumb.

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4. Caroline Wozniacki: Tennis star secured impressive engagement ring from Rory McIlroy, then while caddying for him in the Par 3 Contest, tried a 35-foot downhill putt and sank it.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

1. Ryan Moore: Doomed himself by winning the Par 3 Contest, the champion of which has never gone on to win the Masters that year. But he did say, "I'm not afraid of it. You never know. Someone has got to break that curse at some point."

2. Lee Westwood: You wonder if his time to win a major has passed, after many chances. If he does win this week, though, he gets a 2 million pound bonus (approximately $3.5 million) from Dunlop.

3. Matthew Fitzpatrick's original caddie: The U.S. Amateur champion from England had to switch loopers because Lorne Duncan, who must wear sandals because of a foot condition, was told sandals do not comply with the Masters dress code.

4. Working out: Steve Stricker noticed that the pros who tend to spend the most time with weights - he mentioned Tiger Woods, Bill Glasson, Keith Clearwater - are prone to injury.

5. Food: When it's in the vicinity of Nick Faldo at the champions dinner, "Man," said Gary Player, who sat next to him, "he eats like it's the Last Supper."

WHY IT IS SO HARD FOR A FIRST-TIMER TO WIN

1. Precedent. Aside from the first Masters in 1934, when everyone was a first-timer, it has happened only twice. Gene Sarazen won in 1935 (which barely counts) and Fuzzy Zoeller won in 1979.

2. Golfers who have played many rounds here know where the trouble is and how to avoid it.

3. Reading the fast, nuanced greens is an acquired skill.

4. "First of all, you've got to get over being here," Justin Rose said. "It's such an awe-inspiring place. As a first-timer, you can't help but just be at Augusta taking it all in."

5. Also from Rose, who has been a first-round leader three times but then became too aggressive: "You can't chase the course. You've got to let it unravel."

TV SCHEDULE

Thursday: 3:00-7:30 p.m., ESPN

Friday: 3:00-7:30 p.m., ESPN

Saturday: 3:00-7:00 p.m., CBS

Sunday: 2:00-7:00 p.m., CBS