And they’re off… And the conditions are absolutely perfect…

The great Arnold Palmer got the US Masters ball rolling this morning at 7.50am local time, in an atmosphere far removed from the last three days.

There was an eerie silence out there. From Monday to Wednesday, crowds approaching 75,000 were granted access to the practice rounds, but today it’s well down on that (which means the gruff-style-goatee-beard-and-tragic-looking-bermuda-shorts count will be considerably down).

Some say 40,000 at the most…. And still the scalpers are roaming on Washington Drive. Where do they get so many tickets from?

Inside the media centre, it’s heaving. All late arrivals for the week are now here. With many of the guys working for dailies around the world, journos come and go and have their own schedule; they don’t really follow the action up close, but rather get a feel for the day to wrap round the one big story. Sat next to me is a guy called Robert Lusetich. He’s the chief sports writer for the The Australian (can you believe that country’s ONLY national newspaper?).

Naturally, in bullish Aussie spirit, The Australian newspaper has high hopes for their contingent of players. Headed by the ‘quite-cool-and-reserved’ Geoff Ogilvy, there is a quiet confidence that he can really rise to the challenge this week.

A veteran of 13 Masters, Robert made his first trip here in 1996. He was sent over as hopes for Greg Norman rose with the Aussie towering above the rest of the field. “Only he could have blown it,” Robert said.

“Not a lot of people remember this,” he added, “but Nick Faldo had to birdie the last hole in the third round. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have been playing with Norman, Phil Mickleson would have. If that was the case, there was no way Norman could lose. Faldo just hunted him down – and Norman was afraid of that. It took me nine hours to file my tournament report that Sunday – and I wrote war and peace.” Hmmm

Elsewhere, all other talk is centred on Tiger – but I am really holding out for one of the European’s to do something special this week. A new era of great European golfers is now upon us, and I’m rooting for a change in the Masters guard… Talking of which, Sergio’s just off!

From Augusta