Sergio Garcia watches his tee shot on the first hole during...

Sergio Garcia watches his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the Houston Open golf tournament Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Houston.  Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

One of the sure signs of spring comes the second weekend of April when golf fans turn on CBS and hear the familiar Masters theme song and see the azaleas in bloom at Augusta National Golf Club. But the COVID-19 pandemic has upset the sports calendar and delayed the start of the Masters to this coming Thursday in November, where it will compete with college and pro football and serve as the appetizer for Thanksgiving instead of a harbinger of spring.

"This is going to be a Masters unlike any other," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said on a Zoom video conference Monday. "The course is going to look different; it’s going to feel different. There are going to be no patrons, so, it gives us an opportunity maybe for some new and different camera angles. I think it’s going to be an amazing experience."

On Sunday, the final round will start earlier in the morning so the final putt will be expected to drop about 3 p.m., allowing a one-hour window for a possible playoff before the 4 p.m. slot for NFL football on CBS.

Longtime Masters commentator Jim Nantz said the 11 tournaments CBS has carried since the PGA restart have helped the network prepare for Augusta. "I really believe, when we get the competition started, it’s going to feel like the Masters," Nantz said.

On Monday, it was announced that 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia will miss the Masters after a positive COVID test. The 40-year-old, who recently won the Sanderson Farms PGA Tour event, had the longest current streak of consecutive majors played at 84. Chile’s Joaquin Niemann also withdrew after a positive test.

This Masters can’t be as exciting as the last one 19 months ago when Tiger Woods ended an 11-year major championship drought by winning his fifth green jacket and 15th major overall.

Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said the back problems that have plagued Woods will make it difficult for him along with projections of showers this week that will make the course play longer.

"It’s an extremely difficult task this week for Tiger to rekindle that amazing magic from last year…when he was doing it for his children to show his children he could still be a champion," Faldo said. "I don’t believe you can flip the switch on that. There’s 10 guys or more who are very long hitters which is obviously going to be key."

The most prominent is current U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who might try a 48-inch driver, 2 ½ inches longer than standard, in search of even more length. Faldo said there are rumors that DeChambeau reached the 350-yard par-4 third hole with a 3-wood off the tee and has been hitting the ball incredibly close to several long par-4 holes.

Commentator Dottie Pepper said she walked the course Monday morning with DeChambeau in mind, scouting for places where he might take shortcuts, such as the par-5th 13th hole, here he might hit driver and wedge to the green.

"It’s still about getting the ball in the hole, and while he did it at Winged Foot, I think this is a little bit different animal here at August National," Pepper said. "But I walked it with Bryson in mind. I thought, ‘Well, that’s going to be a little different.’ But getting it around Augusta National is about leaving yourself the optimum angle…If he can be patient enough to do that, then, I think he has a chance."

Faldo lamented the fact there will be mostly silence and no "patrons" packed closely around the 18th green on Sunday. "But being the Masters and playing the second nine for a green jacket, it will still have incredible intensity," Faldo said. "Just you and your caddy. You’re probably going to hear your own heartbeat. You’re certainly going to feel it.

"It’s all going to be very quiet. The good thing is there will still be a green jacket waiting for you at Butler Cabin. It will feel good by then."

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