Two months ago one of the most exciting afternoons of golf ever unfolded at Augusta National in the final round of the 75th Masters Tournament. Looking back, the narrative value of that afternoon is not lost. The triumphs and failures of some of golf’s greatest superstars and underdogs look all the more dramatic in hindsight. Here’s the rundown of the year’s biggest tournament’s biggest stories:
The Rise and Fall of Rory McIlroy
The 22 year old from Northern Ireland currently ranks no.6 in the Official World Golf Rankings and on Sunday, April 10th it seemed as though he was poised to become an official golf superstar. Young, determined and endearing as all hell, McIlroy led the masters from the get-go, scoring a 65 on day one and fighting his way down to 12 under par for a solo lead by the end of round 3. When he headed out in the final pairing on Sunday, 4 shots ahead of his competition Angel Cabrera, McIlroy was focused but refusing to loose sight of the incredible fun of his current situation. But with a triple bogey on the 10th hole, a double on the 12th and an increasingly aggressive cast of characters breathing down his neck, McIlroy fell apart on the back 9 of the final round, finishing off the leaderboard at -4, tied for 15th place. As McIlroy fell out of the competition, watching the self-doubt and disappointment crowd his face proved the worst part of the afternoon. He may have lost out on a triumphant Masters win but this 22-year-old proved that he’d be there again soon and in the meantime he’s earned himself a spot as my favourite golfer.
Tiger’s Fight to the Finish…Almost
Going into that epic final round, the once-great Tiger Woods was sitting at -5, tied for 9th and the last name on the leaderboard. But a 31 on the front 9 of that final round proved that the superstar who hasn’t been shining quite as brightly since his personal life fell apart in late 2009, might not be gone for good. Winless since his scandal first broke, Tiger currently ranks no.12 in the world, his lowest ranking since before his first Masters win 14 years ago (at age 21). But at the 2011 Masters, Tiger finally looked like he might be able to shut everybody up, prove that the personal and the professional aren’t inextricably linked; maybe he could convince the world for once and for at all that whether or not you think he’s a good guy, he can still prove a great player. Tiger played some brilliant golf that day, scrambling up the leaderboard to hold a share of the lead, from seven shots back at the beginning of the day. But a series of mental mistakes (including a bogey on 12) kept him from finishing what he started and making his the real story of the season. And as triumphant as that close-call rally was, the manner in which he couldn’t follow through said it all about Tiger. At the end of the day, the mistakes he made on that back 9 aren’t ones the old Tiger would have made. He’s always been a superb technical player, and that’s still there (probably always will be), but what made Tiger different, what put him ahead, was the mental edge. The coolest guy on the course, Tiger was always the picture of focus, a zen master of knowing what he had to do and getting it done. Since his scandal broke, that edge has all but disappeared. His attempts to smile at the gallery, for example, while a solid PR choice, don’t mesh with how he’s always played this game. Until Tiger stops letting it get to him, he’ll never be the great player he was, a point made more than clear by the final round of this year’s Masters.
The Final Battle
Starting 5 strokes off the lead and overshadowed by Tiger’s meteoric rise, the endlessly likable Adam Scott crawled up the leaderboard to find himself with a 2 shot lead after 16. Joined by 23-year-old Jason Day at 12 under par, Scott and Day were poised to enter a playoff to determine which of them would be crowned the first ever Australian winner of the Masters. But as the final groups came in a South African named Charl Schwartzel began to birdie. And he birdied. And he birdied. Then he birdied again. He birdied the final 4 holes of the course, ending the round with a 66, 14 under par and the new Masters champion.
With eight different players holding a share of the lead on that final day, including veterans, superstars, young hot shots and unknowns, and every single continent (Antarctica excepted) represented on the leaderboard, it was Schwartzel, dressed all in black and as unobtrusive as can be, who triumphed from 4 strokes back to win the day.
You couldn’t write a story that good.