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Where to watch The Masters this year as it returns to its traditional April spot on the sports calendar

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson walk to the

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson walk to the sixth fairway during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 05, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. Credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

It might be a tradition unlike any other, but it sure as heck did not feel that way last November, when The Masters veered off course because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sans blooming azaleas and well-heeled patrons.

Better than nothing? Sure. But far from traditional.

"Walking the grounds before Thursday, it was a very, very quiet atmosphere, unlike any sporting event that I've ever been to, and the players seemed melancholy," ESPN analyst Curtis Strange said. "It certainly seemed [there was] a lack of energy from the players and from us as well."

Five months later, the big event is back in its customary early spring comfort zone, complete with azaleas, some spectators and a star-filled field, if not the convalescing Tiger Woods, who won the last time it was held in April.

All of this – except the Tiger part – is good news for the television networks that cover the tournament, which customarily attracts casual fans of the sport, some of whom might not watch any other event on the calendar.

"Without patrons, it lost a lot of its soul, there's no question about that," ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt said on a call with reporters to promote the coverage. "So even with limited people there, I'm grateful to hopefully see some azaleas, the friends I've met along the way."

He added, "The Masters in spring is something that I think is just synonymous with sports fans across the world. So we're all looking forward to being back there."

ESPN again will carry the first two rounds, CBS the last two. NBC’s Golf Channel also has extensive programming around the event.

On Thursday and Friday, ESPN will televise live play from 3 to 7:30 p.m. – after showing highlights of earlier play on "SportsCenter."

This will be CBS’ 66th consecutive year of Masters coverage, with the third round on Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m. and the final round on Sunday from 2 to 7.

Jim Nantz will host for the 34th time, joined in the 18th hole tower by lead analyst Nick Faldo. Yes, Verne Lundquist will be back on the announcing roster as well.

The Masters itself as well as CBS and ESPN will offer coverage of featured groups and holes through their digital platforms throughout the weekend.

Golf Channel has studio coverage from Augusta each day before and after the ESPN and CBS telecast windows.

"It seems like I was just driving from Augusta to Atlanta to catch a flight a couple of weeks ago," Golf Channel analyst Justin Leonard said. "Even though it was four months ago, it seems a little strange for such a quick turnaround."

Join the club. "Strange" has been the word in sports over the past 13-plus months.

So let’s give the last words to a guy who goes by that name, and who recalled his first time playing at Augusta, as a 20-year-old in 1975 who stayed in the famed dormitory there that is reserved for amateur players.

"I drove my old, go-to-hell Chevy Nova, yellow Chevy Nova, called ‘the Canary,’ through the gates up Magnolia Lane, and coming from Wake Forest, it was quite an experience," Strange said.

"I never left. I was there for eight days. I never left the gates in eight days, staying in the ‘Crow's Nest.’ Never left the compound."

Jack Nicklaus won the tournament that year, and Lee Elder made history as the first Black man to play in it. Both will be honorary starters on the first tee on Thursday morning.

New York Sports