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The Masters

The Masters

The Hogan Bridge, Agusta National Golf Club

Almost every golf fan in the world recognizes the photo above. It’s the famous Ben Hogan Bridge, crossing Rae’s Creek from the 12th fairway to the 12th green at historic Augusta National Golf Club, perennial home of one of the four “Grand Slam” golf tournaments each year, The Masters.

I’m a big fan of golf, having inherited my love of the game from my dad. Growing up, my hero (and Dad’s) was Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus was the devil (my view of him having changed considerably over the past 40 years or so), and Gary Player was “the little guy in black.”

As time went on, the likes of Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, and Payne Stewart became my heroes. More recently, I’ve become an unabashed Tiger fan (Woods, not Detroit). I used to play golf, and someday hope to take up the game again.

The Majors

In the meantime,I settle myself in for four weekends each spring and summer, to bask in the glory of the game’s four major championships: The Masters, always held at Augusta National the first full week of April; the United States Open, with its last round on Father’s Day each year; The Open Championship (a.k.a. The British Open, outside the UK), competed on the weekend of the third Friday in July; and the PGA Championship, usually contested four weeks after The Open Championship.

Of these, the PGA is my least favorite; somehow, I just don’t view it on the same level as the other three. It’s the only major championship Arnold Palmer never won; perhaps that is why I don’t regard it quite as highly as I do the others. The US Open is easily my favorite, probably in part because it is our National Championship. The British is captivating because it is so often contested on links courses that are unlike almost anything played in the US, and obviously because the history and traditions of The Open are so much a part of the fabric of golf.

But The Masters, the only major championship for men or ladies contested over the same course each year, is easily the most beautiful golf tournament in the world. The magic of television probably does nothing to hurt that image, but one can’t argue with the gorgeous scenes presented all week to a worldwide viewing audience. And indeed, Augusta National in early spring, with azaleas and dogwood in full bloom, the stately magnolias in full leaf, the fairways and greens perfectly manicured, and always the perfect shade of green, is a perfectly blended masterpiece of beauty and color.

Prologue

This weekend, The Masters was contested once again, and unlike the past two years, Mother Nature didn’t take a sabbatical. Instead of wind, rain, and cold, she obliged with lots of sun, enough wind to keep things interesting, and only one overnight rain (Friday night), which helped to make the weekend one of the more memorable in the 75 years The Masters has been contested.

Tiger Woods lines up a putt on Sunday at the 3rd. The biggest question entering the tournament was about Tiger Woods. Immediately after his dramatic and heroic victory over Rocco Mediate in last June’s US Open (in which he played all four rounds, an 18-hole playoff on Monday, and a sudden-death 19th hole after that with a stress fracture in his left leg), he had surgery to repair his left knee and was inactive for over 8 months. Two weeks before The Masters, though, he won his first tournament since surgery by coming from five strokes back in the final round of the CA Open to win with a dramatic 18-foot birdie on the final hole.

So could Tiger be considered a favorite? Should he be considered the favorite? Virtually everyone agreed Tiger would be a factor, and many (myself included) were willing to pick Woods against the field. But there were a lot of other contenders: Geoff Ogilvy had won twice in this young season; Phil Mickelson was poised to take over as golf’s #1 player with a victory; 54-year-old Greg Norman, invigorated by his superb showing in last year’s British Open and his marriage to Chris Evert, had worked hard on his game to see if he could repeat the magic—and exorcise a few Masters demons along the way. And of course, there were the young guns, teenagers and twenty-somethings from around the world, all shooting for that green jacket, emblematic of a Masters champion.

For the second year in a row, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch not only all four rounds of television coverage, starting Thursday afternoon, but Wednesday’s 9-hole par-3 tournament as well. It’s a fun, fairly informal tournament, where golfers bring their families (including youngsters who stand a foot shorter than their fathers’ putters). Chrissie caddied for The Shark, and his hole-in-one on #6 was a thrill for everyone.

Nicklaus and Palmer watch as Player reacts to his hole-in-one on #9. Golf’s Big Three of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player—the men who unquestionably put their mark on the world game and made it much of what it is today—were grouped together. And I admit to more than a few shivers as Player, on the last hole after putting his first shot in the water, hit again from the tee for a beautiful hole-in-one.

This would also be the last year for Player as a competitor, after a record 52 appearances at Augusta. Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 champion, and last player to win The Masters in his first appearance, also announced this would be his final year of competition. I freely admit to misty vision and a lump in my throat as each of these wonderful ambassadors of the game made their final walks up the 18th fairway to enthusiastic and heartfelt standing ovations.

The Tournament

As the tournament proper got underway on Thursday, the cold and wind of Tuesday (which saw many players forego practice rounds, since the conditions would be much different 48 hours later) was just a memory. The day was made for scoring, and scoring well: Chad Campbell started his round with five straight birdies, a tournament record, and helped to put him at the top of the leader board at the end of the day. On Friday, the young American Andrew Kim made 11 birdies, although bogies and double-bogies kept him off page 1 of the leader board.

Tiger, on the other hand, was either spraying drives or lipping putts, and going into the weekend, found himself eight strokes back of the leaders, the aforementioned Campbell and 48-year-old Kenny Perry, the hero of September’s victorious US Ryder Cup team. Perry was vying to become the oldest major championship winner ever, and his solid game and unflappable demeanor certainly made him a force no one could discount.

Saturday, or “Moving Day,” was another day for scoring. With overnight showers having softened up the greens a bit, they were much more receptive to longer approaches. There was, however, very little actual movement. Woods was able to improve a couple strokes to par, finishing the day in a huge gaggle at 4-under-par, including his rival Phil Mickelson. The 2007 US Open Champion, Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, moved up to tie Perry for the tournament lead at minus–11. Campbell dropped back a stroke to minus-9, ending up being paired on Sunday with 2003 US Open Champion Jim Furyk at 8-under.

Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry, Sunday at The Masters So the final pairing on Sunday included Perry and Cabrera, with Campbell and Furyk just ahead of them. By coincidence, and based on the order in which their Saturday scores were posted, Woods and Mickelson found themselves paired in the 19th group (out of 25). At minus–4, they were seven strokes back of the co-leaders, but certainly not an insurmountable lead for the two best players in the world.

However, there didn’t appear to be any quit in the leaders: Perry started with 11 straight pars; Campbell and Cabrera stayed within 2 strokes through those eleven holes. In fact, Cabrera held the lead by himself after a birdie on the third, but gave back two strokes with bogies on 4 and 5.

In the meantime, Mickelson put on a classic charge, with six birdies on the front nine, including four in a row on 5 through 8, to make the turn at minus–10 and in a tie with Campbell and Cabrera, a stroke behind Perry. Woods made up two strokes on the front, and was only four strokes back at the turn. Mickelson put his tee shot in the water at 12, and the double bogey dropped him to minus–8, only a stroke ahead of Woods.

On 13, both players made birdie, but Mickelson missed an eagle putt by an inch after getting a perfect read from Woods. Afterwards, Phil said he simply didn’t trust himself on that shot. After matching pars at 14, Phil and Tiger both birdied the par-5 15th hole. At the time, that put Mickelson in second place, a stroke behind Perry, with Woods in third.

 At the par-3 16th, Tiger made another birdie, while Phil settled for a par. In the meantime, Perry was making his 11th par, still one shot in front of Campbell, Mickelson and Woods and two ahead of Cabrera. Furyk, after dropping to 9-under on the 8th hole, made double-bogey 6 on the next, and wasn’t able to get closer than minus–8 on the inward half of the course, finally finishing at 7-under.

So as Tiger and Phil approached the 17th tee, they were tied at minus–10. Perry was about to make his first birdie at the par-3 12th, considered the most difficult par-3 in the world, with a magnificent tee shot that settled to less than two feet from the cup. Woods bogeyed 17; Mickelson made par. At 18, Woods again shot a 5, his third bogey there in four rounds. Mickelson likewise shot 5, ending his Masters at minus–9, and was the “leader in the clubhouse.” And while he conceded that the leaders were very unlikely to drop back that far, he also said, “But I’m going to hang around!”

Phil and Tiger Unquestionably, the battle between Woods and Mickelson was a classic, and had they also been fighting for the lead, would have made this one of the most memorable Masters ever. Still, one has to marvel at the ability of Perry, Cabrera and Campbell to maintain their composure and continue to score well, despite the huge roars in front of them as Tiger and Phil posted all those red numbers.

But this Masters was far from over. Campbell bogeyed 11, but recovered with birdies at 12 and 13. After Perry’s birdie at 12, he was a stroke up on Campbell, playing a hole ahead, and three strokes clear of Cabrera, his fellow competitor.

Cabrera birdied 13 as Perry made par. In the meantime, Campbell parred 14. Campbell birdied 15, pulling even with Perry after the final pairing matched pars on 14. Campbell made another birdie at 15 while Perry and Cabrera watched from the fairway. The final pair then went on to birdie 15 themselves. As they approached the par-3 16th tee, Cabrera was at minus–11, Campbell at minus–12, and Perry at minus–13.

Campbell made par at 16, but Cabrera and Campbell each made a 2. Perry was two strokes ahead, with two holes remaining. Campbell parred the last two to finish at 12-under for the tournament. At 17, Cabrera made his par, but suddenly Perry’s swing betrayed him, and he shot a bogey-5. At 18, Perry chipped onto the green and had a 12-footer for a par to win the tournament, but he left it an inch outside. When Cabrera made his par, all three men headed to the 18th tee for a sudden death playoff.

The Playoff

On the first hole of the playoff, Cabrera looked dead off the tee: Hitting into the pine straw, he appeared to be stymied behind a huge tree. Hitting a 4-iron, he banged his ball off another tree, where it ricocheted into the fairway, less than 120 yards from the green. A pitch and a putt gave him his par. Perry also made par, despite a wayward drive, but Campbell succumbed to a poor third shot from a greenside bunker, and was unable to convert the up-and-down.

2009 Masters Champion, Angel CabreraSo in lengthening early-evening shadows, Perry and Cabrera moved to the 10th tee. None of the earlier seven Masters playoffs had gone longer than the second extra hole, and this one was to be no exception. Still shaky, Perry hit his second shot to the left of the green, then didn’t hit a very good wedge. He had a tough par putt which was just wide, while El Pato converted his par into a green jacket and his second major championship.

 

Epilogue

Kenny Perry was extremely gracious in defeat, despite the massive disappointment of giving away the championship. He didn’t realize his dream, but he’s still a Masters hero. And Angel Cabrera validated his US Open Championship against perhaps the toughest field in golf, when 13 of the top 15 players in the world were on Sunday’s first 15 positions at the start of the round.

The magic of the Masters was definitely back on Sunday; in fact, throughout the week, favorable pin placements, wonderful weather, and great play made The Masters once again, one of the premier events in all of sport.

I can’t wait for June at Bethpage Black!

 

Discussion on This Post

  1. Maerdred Apr 13, 2009 at 02:49 edit

    Well done my friend. I must say that you closed this post perfectly. All I could think after finishing this post was, “Bethpage Black, that’s going to be a great Open!”

    Maerdred last blogged about Speaking of Balance….

    Reply
    1. Kestrel Apr 13, 2009 at 04:20 edit

      Glad you liked it, Maer. A bit of an adventure for me: Non-wow, but not strictly “personal” but as I told a couple friends, it’s something about which I’m passionate. I hope some of that comes through in the article.

      Reply
  2. krizzlybear Apr 14, 2009 at 01:02 edit

    I still remember the year Mike Weir won it all. Well, not really. But when I discovered that he had made it to the final round, I decided that I were to follow the rest of the proceedings. He was calm, collected, and quite humble and grateful to accept the jacket when i believe it was Tiger who gave it to him.

    A class act all the way, in my opinion. Shame that he’s been struggling due to supposedly changing his swing mechanics.

    krizzlybear last blogged about The First Day Back….

    Reply
  3. Kestrel Apr 14, 2009 at 03:34 edit

    I remember that Masters; Weir was great, and definitely gained a fan in me. One of the reasons he’s been struggling in recent years are injuries, some fairly serious.

    Reply
  4. krizzlybear Apr 14, 2009 at 07:17 edit

    Ah, is that so. Well, I suppose that sort of double-whammy is difficult to recover from. I wish him well, then.

    krizzlybear last blogged about The First Day Back….

    Reply

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