It was arguably the most hyped Masters Golf Tournament ever.
The wave of uber-talented 20-somethings with their fearless games were supposed to go toe-to-toe with the icons of the last 20 years who were going to counterpunch with their cunning and guile.
In the end, youthful exuberance won out as Patrick Reed, just 27, held off spirited challenges by two of the game’s brightest young stars, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, to earn his first major.
There was the expected drama as the decision wasn’t rendered until Reed knocked in a 3-footer on the 72nd hole to avoid a playoff with Fowler, who had birdied the 18th to finish off a spectacular 67.
Spieth sent roars cannonading through the pines with a textbook 64 as he missed a putt on the final hole for a record-tying 63. It was his only blemish of the day, but just enhanced his image as the Master of the Masters, as he is on a five-year roll at Augusta as he would have two green jackets had he not dunked a few balls into the pond at No. 12 a couple of years ago.
Then there was Jon Rahm, who will win a green jacket or two once he tames his emotions, which got the better of him at times on Sunday. He’s an incredible talent who puts such a hurt on the ball with his massive drives, yet has a nice feel on the greens. Oh yes, he’s all of 23 years old.
The only “elder statesmen” who figured in Sunday’s talk was Henrik Stenson, who hits a 3-wood better than anybody in the game. Stenson, though, could manage only a 70 on Sunday, his third straight after a 69 on Thursday. His putter simply wouldn’t cooperate as he never rattled off a hot streak that the others did.
Then of course, there were Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the backbone of professional golf for the last two decades.
I was one of those who drank the Tiger Kool-Aid. I really thought, given how he had performed in tournaments leading up to this moment, that he would no doubt make the Top 10. While his driver was crooked in his recent hot streak, he had regained his precision iron play and was putting well enough to contend.
ESPN, which carried the first two rounds, and CBS, which carried the final two, were panting for a Tiger charge. But Woods’ game was meek as he didn’t break par until Sunday when he was nothing more than a footnote and there was no stress, as it was nothing more than just casual stroll around Augusta.
The Masters should prove to Woods that he still needs more competitive rounds. He can’t just show up for a week or two, take three weeks off, and expect to win. We don’t watch Tiger to make the cut, we watch to see him stare down his opponents, wearing his red shirt on Sunday, and watching them fold like an accordion. I still think it’s going to come together for him, but he needs to play a lot more before golf’s next major, the U.S. Open in June.
As for Mickelson, he scrambled to a 70 on Thursday, but it was a matter of time before his score ballooned as he visited every bad place on the course on Friday for a 79. He wasn’t much better on Saturday with a 74, but at least he didn’t mail it in on Sunday, shooting a 67 that padded his pocket book for $55,000.
I found the Masters to be riveting stuff. Augusta National is unlike any course the pros play with its undulating greens and cadre of risk-and-reward holes. The leaderboard was populated with the game’s best and records were threatened.
It was indeed a tradition like none other.