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Len Ziehm On Golf

This Masters will be good — but won’t match the epic of 30 years ago

This week marks the 80th playing of the Masters tournament and the 30th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ last championship. His win in 1986 was also the first Masters that I covered from Augusta National, and I doubt there’ll ever be another one like it.

Nicklaus, who has accurately called the Masters “the championship of nothing,’’ was 46 when he won his record sixth title and became the tourney’s oldest-ever champion. The Masters isn’t like the other three major championships – the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. It “just’’ decides the winner of that year’s event at Georgia’s Augusta National.

Still, the Masters is a special tournament and the electricity during Nicklaus’ final round charge 30 years ago has rarely been matched in any sport. In my nearly 50-year career it tops everything else, which includes the 1994 World Cup finals, Northwestern’s run to the 1996 Rose Bowl and the Blackhawks’ recent Stanley Cup successes.

While every Masters seems to create drama, it’s tough to image this one being a rival for Nicklaus’ last win. The story lines just aren’t there.

There’s no Tiger Woods comeback possibility. As expected, he withdrew last week citing health issues.

Jordan Spieth could become the first repeat champion since Woods won in 2001 and 2002. Rory McIlroy could complete a career Grand Slam, having already won the U.S. and British Opens and PGA Championship, and other young stars could make a career breakthrough.

Jason Day regained the world’s No. 1 ranking with his back-to-back victories at the Bay Hill Invitational and World Golf Championship-Dell Match Play event in his last two starts. With Day taking last week off Dustin Johnson (third) and Ricky Fowler (tie for 10th) had good finishes in the Shell Houston Open on Sunday so their games could be peaking at the perfect time. Neither has won one of golf’s major titles yet, but this could be their week.

The Masters holds its traditional Par-3 contest on Wednesday as a prelude to the start of its 72-hole run on Thursday. Already, though, some champions have been crowned at Augusta National and one was a Chicago area golfer.

The Drive, Chip & Putt national finals, well received as a new Sunday warmup attraction last year, included Christian Kim of Vernon Hills as one of its featured players this year. He won the boys 10-11 competition.

A Luke Donald update

Luke Donald, the former Northwestern star and world No. 1 golfer, didn’t qualify for the Masters for the first time since 2004 but he’ll impact the week in Chicago.

Donald has been a long supporter of the First Tee of Chicago, which holds its Masters Viewing Party and Golf Fashion Show at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Old Crow Smokehouse, 149 W. Kinzie in Chicago’s River North. Donald’s traditional wine-tasting event is part of the festivities.

He’s also involved in a new project along with his long-time swing instructor Pat Goss. They’re among the leaders of a group that is reviving the Peter Jans course in Evanston. The new version will be called Canal Shores. It’ll have a 12-hole course, youth development area and six-hole short course with a massive putting course.

Goss was recently elected president of the First Tee of Chicago, succeeding Bruce Patterson. Patterson, the director of golf at Butler National in Oak Brook, served as president for seven years.

Eight countries set for International Crown

The LPGA named the eight countries that qualified for the July 21-24 UL International Crown at Merit Club in Libertyville this week and they didn’t include Spain, which won the inaugural staging of the event two years ago.

Spain stood 11th in the point standings at Sunday’s deadline and only the top eight advance to the Merit Club. Those countries are the Republic of Korea, U.S., Japan, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, England, China and Australia. The four players who will compete for each those teams at the Merit Club will be determined after the June’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.