Steve Williams Carries Adam Scott (‘s Bag) To Masters Title.

Ruined 36 Jim Nantz Angel Puns

Ruined 36 Jim Nantz Angel Puns

Another great ending to the Masters.  I wonder if today, sitting around the well-pledged libraries of the clubhouse if the members are just congratulating themselves?  Someone takes a sip of Scotch, gazes lovingly at a life-sized oil painting of Bobby Jones and says, “We run the perfect golf tournament.”  It’d be hard to argue.  We’re on a run of years now with scintillating finishes and memorable shots and it’s all happened without Tiger Woods sliding into his 5th green jacket.  For a sport that seems to be reliant on individual star power, the Masters and Augusta National pull themselves above that level most years.

What I’ll take away from the event this year was the quality of the golf of the playoff.  My Masters’ playoff memories include Scott “Choke” Hoch, Len Mattiace making a thousand on 10, Ray Floyd splashing down on 11, Kenny Perry squandering his chance at history and of course, Bubba’s awful tee shot before, “THE HOOK.”  The Masters makes people choke.  Jason Day all but admitted it in his post-round comments.  The playoff is even worse.  Perhaps this is why a Masters sudden death playoff has never extended beyond two holes.  You either see something miraculous, or someone gives it away.

If you want to be picky, I suppose you could criticize the shots Scott and Angel Cabrera hit into 18 on the first playoff hole, but that would ignore the inherent difficulty of that shot.  And then Cabrera nearly holed his chip, Scott made a nervy 3-footer and they were off to the 10th.  Cabrera’s monster iron off the 10th tee was something from another era.  Thirty years ago professional golfers carried 2-irons to “get the ball in play,” and now they’re practically extinct.  Whatever souped up driving iron Cabrera hit in the playoff was something to behold.  Of course, his putt ended up teasing the edge like Oosthuizen’s last year, but there was no choke in Cabrera.  When the guy shows up–he’s there to stay.

And, Adam Scott has always been a great ball-striker.  He’s the kind of guy who would make a 2-handicap quit the game if they had to hit balls next to him on the range every day.  We’ve been hearing, “if the guy could ever make some putts,” for years.  Last year, when Scott gave away the Open Championship you had to wonder if the cumulative impact of his missed putts was starting to take hold on the rest of his game (Sergio-itis).  But, Scott found the putting stroke late Sunday and made two of the more memorable putts in Masters’ history, the first of which, I thought he had no chance to make.

I’ve always had Scott in the category of guys who I thought could eventually get a major (Hey, I picked him 3rd–not bad?).  It’s a group populated by guys like Dustin Johnson.  Eventually, these guys are just too good to not put it together for one week.  Greg Norman was the most snake bit player in the history of the majors and he gave away plenty too, but he still went out of his mind a couple of times and won the Open twice.  One of these days, Dustin will get so far out in front that he can’t blow it, or he’ll lip-in a crucial putt when he needs it, like Scott did on Sunday.  These guys are too talented to not win a major, where as players like Lee Westwood and Luke Donald–you wonder.

I’m sure it’s a relief for Scott this morning to be free of “the label.”  He’s been a guy who has been pigeon-holed his entire career.  First, he was the guy with Tiger’s swing–an automatic and unfair heir apparent.  Since then, he’s been replaced by an even younger group of Australian golfers and become the favorite of women who are stuck on the couch watching golf.  An honorable distinction, but I doubt something Scott aspired to.  Now, he’s a major champion.  He’s a guy that could have, should have won 2 of the last three majors.  It’ll be interesting to see where he takes it from here.

Some other things of note…

Disappointing Performance by the Top of the World:

Rory and Luke Donald were never factors, Tiger got lost in controversy and didn’t meet his own standards and I’m not sure if Phil Mickelson even played the event.  Did anyone see him?  It’s strange to me how someone like Mickelson can have a week like he did.  The guy has owned the course in the past.  You’re telling me Fred Couples (god that he is) can get around with relative ease for 3 of 4 rounds, can play in the last group Saturday and end up 13th at 53 years old and Phil someone with a (better?) set of similar skills and a decade younger finishes with 77-76-73?  I don’t get it.

Speaking of the Tiger Rules Controversy:

First, I don’t believe that Tiger intentionally took a bad drop.  He knows that every eye is on him and he would have never admitted to it in his interview after the round.  In fact, I wonder if as those words were coming out of Tiger’s mouth if he didn’t have an alarm go off in his subconscious saying, “OH Fudgesicle.”  I think he was flustered, or enraged by that terrible break and made one of the bigger bonehead moves you’ll ever see.  Joe LaCava failed miserably here too.  There’s really no question Tiger took a bad drop, the question is whether he should have been disqualified.  Prior to a rule change a couple of years ago, Tiger would have been out, but a new rules allows the DQ to be waived under “exceptional circumstances.”  That’s quite vague wording for a rule, but that’s golf’s style.  I don’t know that Tiger’s free pass falls in line with the spirit of the rule, but you can certainly shoe horn it in there.  Bottom line, he didn’t win anyway, and we’ll forget about it soon enough.

Closing Shot:

I think they’ve found a nice balance in the setup at Augusta.  I looked at scores on Friday and wondered how hard they could make the course if they wanted to…I’m quite certain with some moderate changes +10 would win.  But, the balance they seem to be at now is that we’re seeing less eagles and maybe fewer “runs,” but the course is still vulnerable to a hot back nine, you simply have to be playing near perfect golf to take advantage.  So, a guy like Scott who is closing well can still make the needed birdies, while someone like Brandt Snedeker, who is leaking oil, is quickly shuffled toward the back of the pack.  It may not be perfect, but it’s working for me.

That it for now–See you at Merion!

 

Scott Pilots Bogey Train to Buckleville.

Stevie Williams Denied Further Greatness.

In the days leading up to the Open Championship, we heard a lot about how hard the course at Lytham was going to play.  Then for three days, the wind disappeared and the players found a stern, but manageable test.  On Sunday, we got a taste of what a wind-swept event might have looked like.  Even a moderate breeze turned the lush course into a beast and the players, especially those in the later groups saw their scores balloon into the seventies.  Even with the lack of red numbers, the majority of the round felt like a coronation for Adam Scott.  Tiger Woods made an early triple bogey, Graeme McDowell never looked comfortable and Scott’s lead remained robust as he played conservative golf.  The Australian was operating under almost no pressure until Ernie Els starting grouping together some back nine birdies.  

There’s never been much question about Adam Scott as a ball-striker.  The possessor of “Tiger’s Old Swing,” Scott creates the kind of contact that Lytham has typically rewarded, but after the long putter turned balky–his ball-striking began to suffer as well.  It was moments after Els’ birdie roar from 18 that Scott overcooked an approach on 17 and made a bogey that dropped him into a tie with Els.  When his tee shot on 18 found one of Lytham’s famous bunkers, the outcome felt decided.  Scott’s four closing bogeys put him in unfortunate company when it comes to discussing collapses in a Major Championship.  There was nothing spectacular, no one horrific shot that turned the tide, but the trophy was nonetheless handed to Ernie Els.  

Perhaps Ernie was owed one like this, after his own disappointments and after he failed to gain entry into this year’s Masters.  Ernie has his own, long-documented struggles with the putter so the two deciding putts on 18 Sunday in some ways were a reversal of fortune for the South African.  Els was once a great clutch putter, winning two US Opens, matching Tiger Woods putt for putt in a Presidents Cup playoff–Ernie has made plenty of big putts.  He just hadn’t been making them lately, and when he did find himself in contention he never made the putt like did on the final hole Sunday.  

Ernie will be a popular champion, not quite as sentimental as last year’s winner, Darren Clarke, but Els has always been very popular in Europe.  An Open Champion is always revered, and now Ernie joins the far more elite company of multiple gold medal winners.  Other than reviving Ernie’s career (he was nowhere on my radar for the week), we can glean a few more takeaways from golf’s most global Major.  

1.  Tiger again faltered over a Major Championship weekend.  On the biggest stages, it still doesn’t look like Tiger trusts his driver.  That’s one of the few places where Tiger doesn’t look comfortable.  His irons weren’t deadly accurate this week, but if he get’s a different bounce at six, he’s possibly in position to take advantage of Scott’s gift.  And, the manner in which this ended, should provide hope to any top player.  If you can hang around in a Major these days, you never know what will happen in the end.  

2.  Phil Mickelson was a total train wreck.  It’s hard to pinpoint what’s going on with Phil.  Is it attention span?  Is he not 100% healthy?  There was a time when golfers had shorter primes.  Equipment, guys like Vijay Singh have made us assume everyone can compete into their late-40s, but that wasn’t always the case.  Phil still looks fearless out there, but I wonder how much willingness he has to go back to the drawing board at this point in his career.  He’s been out there for a long time, and you start to wonder about the cumulative grind.  He’s far from done, but he appears to be turning it on less and less in recent months.  

3.  It’s now been five majors since Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by lapping by field and was given his own “era.”  In those five events he’s rarely showed form and a decent start this week dissolved into a poor finish.  If Rory had opened with a 67 at last year’s Open he would have been handed the trophy.  A year later, and he’s already back to being just another 1st day story.  

4.  With so many guys winning majors, I think it adds focus to the players who the guys who continually come up short.  You can now put Scott on a list with guys like #1 Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker–what are they all waiting for?  Back when Tiger won almost 1/2 the majors you could argue that the futility of golfers like Mickelson or Monty, or even Els was understandable, but now each major starts wide-open.  It doesn’t make much sense to me how these guys can win multiple times a season and yet look so pedestrian in the biggest events.  The Schwartzels, Bradleys and Watsons of the world have obviously figured out something these guys have not.  

5.  With the Ryder Cup on the horizon in the Fall, I wonder if the Europeans are losing footing as favorites?  Coming into the week, they still held the top-3 spots in the rankings, but Americans resided in spots 4-8.  They also have 11 of the top 20, compared to just six for the Euros.  The Americans always used to hold the edge in the rankings and it was the European’s strong team play and clutch putting that carried them through. When the talent started to even out, the Americans were subject to a couple of blowouts.  With an influx of young talent and Tiger returning to form, we could be headed for another close contest at Medinah.