“History is made here every year.”
That’s how Phil Mickelson described Augusta National and the Masters and what makes it different from the other Majors. Mickelson knows the history of the game and showed it when he quoted years and players regarding the memories that are made at Augusta National.
“Gene Sarazen in ’35, Jack in ’86, what happened to Freddie at 12 in ’92. Those are things you remember from year to year. At US Open at Pebble Beach we remember what Tom Watson did at 17 in ’82 or what Tiger did to everybody in 2000 but those are years apart. Here it happens every year.”
It was about as succinct an answer ever given for the mystique of the Masters. It’s not the oldest Major, or the most difficult to win. Yet it’s the one that everybody yearns for.
This year was as dramatic as it was heartbreaking. Obviously when Tiger said “you have to plod around here now,” after last year’s final round 75 won it for Trevor Immelman, the members at Augusta decided to turn back the clock and listen for the roars that came from the “second” nine on Sunday. The days where a 30 in the final nine holes can propel you to the Green Jacket are back.
Based on tee position and pin placements, if you had control of your game, you could make a run, create some excitement, make the guys behind you hear the roars from 13 and 15 and post a number good enough to make the leaders pay attention.
That looked like just what was going to happen when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shot up the leader board with birdies and eagles on the first nine, putting them into contention. “My number was 11,” Tiger said after the round. “I knew if I could get to 11, those guys in the front would have to beat it.”
Alas, Tiger never got there.
Whether it’s the rust from not playing or a seismic shift of how the world works, not every putt went in as it usually does and instead of keeping his foot on the gas, Woods bogeyed 17 and 18 to finish at 8 under without scaring the leaders. Mickelson really had it going on the first nine holes, turning at 10 under, but missed very makeable putts on 15 and 17 and dunked one in the water on 12 to make double.
“A terrible swing,” Phil said afterwards. On that swing, and the two putts, Mickelson admitted to not committing to what he believed and it cost him each time. He finished at nine under. Good, but not good enough.
Meanwhile, in the final group, Kenny Perry was cruising along with pars through 11 holes and Angel Cabrera was knocking it all over the place and still keeping pace. He was no factor at all for a long time. Between Tiger and Phil, Perry holding onto the lead and Chad Campbell making enough birdies to keep pace, Cabrera was an afterthought.
When Perry hit it to a foot for birdie on 16, he had a two shot lead over Campbell. And, oh by the way, Cabrera also made a 7 footer to stay two behind. Two up with two to play, Kenny Perry suddenly realized he could win the Masters with a par on either of the final two holes. Like Ed Sneed, Raymond Floyd and David Duval before him, Perry had one arm in the green jacket but couldn’t finish it.
Seventeen and eighteen are both difficult driving holes but pretty simple if you do hit a good drive and play it from the fairway. Perry’s drive ended up in the fairway after hitting it in the right trees. Even his second shot (six iron) was OK. But that’s when the wheels started to come off.
“I skulled that chip,” Perry explained of his third shot on 17. “And I hit a great drive on 18, right down the middle, but it found it’s way into the bunker.”
It was a little painful to watch.
After going 23 straight holes without a bogey, Perry was about to make back-to-back fives to fall into a three-way tie and a playoff. Chad Campbell had posted 12-under and Cabrera made a four-footer to get in as well.
“Augusta is the most precise course in the world,” 3-time Masters champion Nick Faldo has said many times. Add the pressure of a Major championship and a playoff and even the best players in the world start to do funny things.
Cabrera hit his drive on 18 straight in the trees while Campbell and Perry knocked it down the middle. Cabrera then hit a tree with his second and it luckily caromed back into the 18th fairway. With 7 and 8 irons in their hands, Perry and Campbell had the clear advantage, but it is the Masters and it is a playoff and neither hit the green.
Cabrera’s out of it right? He hit sand wedge to six feet and made it. Perry chipped up to a tap in and Campbell hit a nice bunker shot, only to miss a four-footer. Perry and Cabrera hit great drives on 10, only to see Perry pull his second shot left of the green. Almost a sure bogey. Cabrera’s 8 iron was below the hole, two putts from victory. His tap in par gave him a second Major.
Amazing that the guy who is behind always seems to have the upper hand at Augusta.
But that’s what makes it the Masters.