Get in the swing of it The Masters golf tournament just isn't fair . . . to its viewers on television. Picture the typical rabid golfer who lives in the Northeast or Midwest. It's April. He or she has been sitting around all winter, wearing out the living room carpet with putting practice. Then the Masters, the first major golf tournament of the season, appears on television. And everything is perfect. The azaleas are in full bloom, and the world's best golfers are hitting magnificent drives and sinking eagle putts. No wonder the ratings are always good. Spring doesn't seem so distant anymore, and anything is possible. This will be the year when you break 80, or 90, or 100. The Masters only lasts for four days in April, but you can take a longer time to read about that competition and the other major tournaments in a pair of new golf books that are just out.

The top release is John Feinstein's annual literary effort, this time called The Majors (Time Warner AudioBooks, $17.98, 1570426848). It's an up-close look at the four major golf championships: the Masters, U.

S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. You might remember Feinstein's book on golf from a couple of years ago, A Good Walk Spoiled. That could have been called A Year in the Life of the PGA Tour. It caught the golf boom at just the right time and was a bestseller. A Good Walk Spoiled was good. The Majors is better. In his books, Feinstein usually introduces his cast of characters and slowly lets them play out the season. No matter how thorough and how good the writing, it's still tough to get everything in while reviewing an entire year. But four tournaments are a different story. Each event has a small list of contenders, and there's plenty of time to find out what went right, and wrong. Feinstein does a particularly good job of informing the reader about the pressures involved in trying to win a major. It's the only time of the year when the golfers are playing for history more than the prizes, and it shows up in a variety of hooks and slices that can make the best professional look like a duffer.

Feinstein had a good run of tournaments in 1998: a Masters triumph on the final hole by Mark O'Meara, who went on to double at the British Open; an exciting comeback by Lee Janzen at the U.

S. Open; and a two-man duel at the PGA that was won by Vijay Singh. There are plenty of fun details along the way. When you finish this book, you'll take greater enjoyment from watching the major championships in 1999.

For those who want to learn more about the first major championship on the calendar, The Making of the Masters: Clifford Roberts, Augusta National, and Golf's Most Prestigious Tournament (Simon ∧ Schuster, $25, 0684857294) will do the trick. The Masters is a little different from the other majors. It is played on the same course every year, Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, and is not a professional or national championship. The Masters started off as a cozy little event hosted by Bobby Jones, a legendary amateur golfer from the 1920s. Jones was helped by Clifford Roberts, who was head of the club for more than 40 years and was a perfectionist when it came to the course and the tournament.

The author, David Owen, has written the story of how the Masters grew to obtain the status it has today. The research is rather remarkable. Owen had access to Augusta National's archives, and the detail is reflected throughout the book. If a tree was moved on one of Augusta's holes, Owen comments on it. If a player from the 1930s complains years later that a late pairing was unfair, Owen pulls out the starting times and shows the player's complaint is invalid. As a result, The Making of the Masters clears up some misconceptions about the tournament and its founders and offers a favorable but relatively balanced portrait of all concerned.

Budd Bailey is a frequent reviewer of sports books in Buffalo, New York.

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