Souvenir cups in high demand at Augusta National

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) On the course, it’s all about going low. Outside the ropes, it’s more about stacking high.

Masters cups are the most sought-after souvenirs at Augusta National. Fans buy drinks – beers are a modest $3 – empty the logo-etched cups and start stacking them high. Really high. Others even dig through trash cans to get extras.

Mike Fletcher, of Moore, Okla., had 16 of them piled up Saturday.

”We’re trying to get 50 cups between us,” said Fletcher, who is attending his ninth Masters with his girlfriend and some friends.

Fletcher says they make great cups to use around the pool. They’re a conversation piece, too. After all, there’s only one place and one time of the year you can get those keepsakes.

– Mark Long,

EARLY UPSET: Rory McIlroy was hoping for a little sympathy on the 18th green.

Not on this day. Not from this guy.

McIlroy birdied three of his final four holes in the third round, shooting a 1-under 71, but got beat by his amateur playing partner.

Jeff Knox, who owns the Augusta National record for members with a 61, was selected to serve as a non-competing marker because an odd number of players made the cut. Knox shot 2-under 70 on his home course from the championship tees despite bogeying No. 18.

”I thought he was going to be nice and three-putt the last and we would have a half, but he beat me by one,” McIlroy said. ”He obviously knows this place so well and gets it around. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does around here. He was really impressive.

”I was thinking of maybe getting him to read a few of my putts out there.”

– Mark Long

GENTLE BEN: Ben Crenshaw first showed up at the Masters as a 20-year-old amateur out of Texas. Next year will be his 44th consecutive appearance – and his last one.

Crenshaw told Golf Channel that he has decided 2015 will be his final year playing the Masters.

Crenshaw won his first Masters in 1984, memorable for that 60-foot putt he made on the 10th hole. Even more special was 1995, when he won the Masters after starting the week as a pallbearer at the funeral of longtime coach Harvey Penick.

”I’ve thought about it for a long time,” Crenshaw said about retiring from Masters competition. ”A lot of times I thought that I could have stepped down earlier. It is hard – very hard. But I have been so fortunate. I have to look at the good things that have happened. I have to pull over and watch.”

Crenshaw last made the cut at Augusta in 2007.

– Doug Ferguson,

FASHION LETDOWN: Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler were supposed to be the most fashionable pairing in the field Saturday.

Maybe they’re saving their best for Sunday.

Poulter wore baby-blue pants with a matching shirt and shoes. No plaid. No outrageous colors. Hardly even much of a head-turner at Augusta National. Fowler had him beat in a relatively toned-down ensemble. Fowler wore gray pants with a coordinated gray, purple and white shirt, with a purple belt and a black, purple and white hat.

– Mark Long

FOOTBALL & GOLF: At this time of the year deep in the heart of SEC country, golf and football share the spotlight.

One big-screen television in the Masters media center was turned to Georgia’s annual spring game Saturday. And for those attending the G-Day game in nearby Athens, Ga., school officials showed the Masters on video screens during timeouts and after the intra-squad exhibition.

– Mark Long

MONEY BAGS: There’s only one place to buy official Masters souvenirs and apparel.

And there’s only one time of year to get them: during the event’s eight days.

So that explains why the gift shops are packed all day, every day during the tournament.

Those Masters-green golf chairs seen all around Augusta National cost $45. A Masters umbrella goes for $30. Shirts range in price, but many sell for more than $100.

It’s a booming business for sure. But lines are hardly an issue because there are workers everywhere, so many that the shops have one person to tally merchandise and another to bag it.

– Mark Long

RATINGS GAME: The TV ratings continue to be down at the Masters, where Tiger Woods is absent for the first time in 20 years.

ESPN said its live telecast of the second round earned a 1.8 household rating (2.5 million viewers), which was down 40 percent from last year’s 3.0 rating (4.2 million viewers) for the second round. That 3.0 last year was the highest for a Friday since ESPN began airing the Masters in 1998.

Over two days, the rating is down 36 percent.

”While viewership was down this year, the Masters has a value to us that goes well beyond ratings,” said John Wildhack, the executive vice president of production and programming for ESPN.

– Doug Ferguson

STANDING ROOM ONLY: Amen Corner is more crowded than a church on Easter.

Augusta National’s famed three-hole stretch is packed 20, 30, 40 deep at most parts, leaving little room to walk between the 11th and 13th fairways.

Everyone there was treated to a lengthy wait Saturday, too.

There was about 40 minutes before Jason Day and Joost Luiten arrived after Rory McIlroy and a marker played through, so fans stood, sat, lounged, drank, ate and chatted. They had no choice but to fellowship with neighbors since the Masters doesn’t allow cellphones on the course and doesn’t have any televisions or video boards providing updates.

– Mark Long

Masters Watch follows golf’s first major of the year and all the activities surrounding the big event in Augusta, Ga., as seen by journalists from The Associated Press. It will be updated throughout the day.