The 75th Masters: Memorable…But for What?

Posted: April 11, 2011 in golf, sports, The Masters
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How the 75th Masters will be remembered is up to Charl Sctwartzel.

If the 26-year-old South African, who’s been a member of the European PGA Tour since he was 18, goes on to fulfill the potential his countrymen such as Gary Player and Ernie Els have predicted, this Masters will go as one of the greatest of all time. It will be placed alongside, among others, the 1975 tournament when Jack Nicklaus out dueled Johnny Miller and Tom Wesikopf ; the ’97 tournament when Tiger Woods set scoring and victory margin records; the ’86 Masters when a 46-year-old Nicklaus shot a back-nine 30 and became the oldest golfer to win the green jacket.

If Schwartzel goes back to being a steady but unspectacular player, the 75th Masters will be remembered for 21-year-old Rory McIlroy’s gut wrenching collapse on the back nine, a 7-over 43 that sent the 63-hole leader tumbling down the leader board quicker than you can say, “Choke!” Golf historians tend to be snobs. Seldom is the word great used to describe a tournament unless a superstar wins.

Is Schwartzel another Charles Coody or another Gary Player? Of course, only time will tell.

For the here and now, however, the 75th Masters deserves to be labeled one of the greatest major championships ever played. It featured a little — actually, a lot — of everything.

Schwartzel’s closing 66 started with a 100-foot chip-in for birdie on No. 1. It gained momentum when he holed a wedge shot from 108 yards for an eagle 2 on the third hole. Reality seemed to set in with a bogey on No. 4 and then 10 straight pars. Then the rail-thin (5-11, 140) bachelor did what no other Masters champ has ever done. He closed with four straight birdies for his 2-shot victory.

The flipside of Schwartzel’s play was that of McIlroy. This Masters was billed as McIlroy’s entrance into the Hall of Greatest. He led after 18 holes. He led after 36 holes. He led by 4 shots after 54 holes. In spite of an opening bogey on Sunday, he then managed eight straight pars and a 1-shot lead going to the back nine — and we all know because we’ve been told thousands of times that the Masters doesn’t really begin until the back nine on Sunday. McIlroy is now a believer.

Sports fans and the sports media can be cruel. We have no trouble throwing around words such as “choke” and “gag”. There’s a part of us that actually seems to enjoy the misery of athletes on the biggest stages. I’m as guilty as the next guy. But McIlroy’s collapse was so sudden, so utterly unbelievable, that it quickly turned smirks into grimaces. The Northern Irishman made a triple bogey 7 on No. 10, hitting his tee shot where perhaps so other Masters competitor had — far, far left. He bogeyed No. 11. He FOUR-PUTTED the No. 12 from 12 feet. He then hit his tee shot into a creek on No. 13. The usual boyish smile had longed disappeared. He’s 21 but looks 16, but Sunday on the back nine he looked 40. His shirttail was partially out. His curls drooped. His closing 80 matched the worst final round by a 54-hole leader in Masters history. For what it’s worth, he’s in good company with that, sharing that unwanted distinction with Sam Snead and Ken Venturi.

As incredible as Schwartzel’s and McIlroy’s stories are, there are many others from this Masters Sunday. As CBS-TV’s mushy-mouth Jim Nantz would say, “This was a Masters like no other.”

For much of the afternoon Tiger Woods stole the show. CBS didn’t have to prostitute itself to keep their cameras on Woods. On this occasion, he earned the attention. The pre-2009 Tiger was roaming around the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club. He showed a bit of the old Tiger on Friday with a 66. But he’s done that before during his 21-tournament, 17-month victory drought. He’s had the occasional spectacular round but always followed it with a whimper. This time it looked no different. Friday’s 66 was followed by a Saturday 74, putting Tiger 7 shots back and with a bunch of guys between McIilroy and himself. Even when he started making Sunday birdies it looked all for naught. Then he lashed a 3-wood 278 yards and within a few feet of the pin on the par-5 8th. The eagle putt fell and the roar was deafening. He seemed ready to give it back on No. 9, but at 3:46 p.m. on this magical Sunday he rolled in a 15-foot par putt and found himself sharing the lead. Tiger appeared ready to grab his 5th Masters victory, his 15th major championship, his return to greatness. When he missed a short par putt on the 12th, ghost of post-2009 Tiger appeared. When he missed a short eagle putt on 15, Tiger looked like just another pro golfer being victimized by shaky nerves on the threshold of greatness.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilivy was leading an Aussie lovefest with five straight birdies on the back nine. Fellow Aussies Adam Scott and Jason Day were making birdies. Scott seemed destined for greatness when he first appeared on the world golf stage. When he won the ’04 Players at age 23, golf historians were convinced they were watching another Greg Norman. Scott, however, hasn’t delivered. His putting was so bad by Tour standards that he switched to a long putter at age 29, a sure time of the yipes. But he found his stroke at the Masters. When he nearly holed his tee shot on the par-3 16th, his tap-in birdie gave him the lead. When he saved par on No. 17 with a lengthy putt the search began for a green jacket in his size. Meanwhile, Day, at 23 considered the next great Aussie golfer, wouldn’t go away. In fact, when he birdied 17 and 18 he shared the lead with Scott.

Who didn’t think we were in for a playoff?

I don’t know what Schwartzel was thinking, but he caught fire. Birdie putts dropped from 10 feet at 15, from 15 feet at 16, from 12-feet at 17. He had the lead. He rolled in a 18-footer for a birdie at 18 as a punctuation mark.

Finally, the 75th Masters was another major statement about how global a sport golf is. That’s another way of saying the United States no longer dominates the sport. For the first time in 1994, all four majors are held by international players, including two South Africans in Schwartzel and one of his best mates, Louis Oosthuizen (British Open). Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell is the reigning U.S. Open champ and German Martin Kaymer holds the PGA title. The top 25 in world rankings includes 16 international players. Six of the top 10 were born outside the USA. The brightest twentysomething golfers include Schwartzel, McIlroy, Day Kaymer, Alvaro Quiros, Ryo Ishiwawa and Oosthuizen in addition to Americans Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney and Ricky Fowler.

Indeed, the 75th Masters will be remembered, but for what?

  1. It's just a web site man! says:

    It will be remembered for the start of a new era of young, excellent golfers. At one point I believe we had five golfers at -10, and four of them relatively new on the scene. These are exciting times for the PGA. Good article…

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