There’s really no substitute for the Masters. U.S. Opens can produce a lot of bogeys, but you won’t often see one where a dozen guys have a legitimate chance to win on Sunday afternoon. After Rory McIlroy tripled the 10th by way of a couple of member cabins, the tournament was a wide-open, 9-hole shootout. It was Tiger Woods who stole the show early, surging into a tie for the lead despite some costly short misses. Tiger’s 67 could have been a few shots better, and those were the shots that kept him from really being in contention when the last 1/2 hour played out.
The thing about the Masters is that is very easy to get ahead of yourself. When Tiger threw that dart into 15 and it looked like he was going to take the outright lead, it’s easy to forget there were still a handful of golfers behind him with several birdie holes left to play. Augusta National sets up for back nine runs, and so often times it matters more how many holes you have left rather than what your score might be. Jason Day, for example, just ran out of holes. The clutch putts that Adam Scott holed ended up not being enough, because Schwartzel had those holes left behind him and he birdied the last four to win by two.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the failure of Rory McIlroy to maintain the form he had for the first three days. McIlroy’s demise was probably worse than Kenny Perry’s bogey-bogey into playoff loss from a couple of years ago, but certainly can’t rank with Greg Norman’s implosion. Rory has work to do to accumulate that level of pain. Still though, when he rope hooked one into the water on the 13th tee after falling all the way back to 5-under, the resulting sight was one the saddest I’ve seen on a golf course in recent years. I’ve said all along that these guys have to close to merit the hype, and it is interesting to me that the guys closing recently, guys like Schwartzel and Oosthuizen don’t have the pedigree of a McIlory or Dustin Johnson.
We hear a lot about learning experiences. I’m sure Rory will say he wants to use this as a positive in some way. It’s what Johnson parroted after his two major letdowns last year, but the golf world is so deep in talent right now, I wonder if you can have these learning experiences? Look at Adam Scott. He was a player hyped like McIlroy, it was assumed he’d have multiple majors by now, but Sunday (at 30 years of age) was his first real look. He played well this time, but still didn’t convert. When will his next chance be? With a rabid pack of forty or fifty guys that look like they can win majors, it’s hard to see anyone piling up wins, let alone golden opportunities. If you want to be a multiple major champion, your learning experiences are probably going to have to come on a different stage.
And, that is the point that might be Tiger’s biggest stumbling block to getting to 18 or 19 Majors. For the rest of his prime (or possible winning years) how many times will there be someone from the pack like Schwartzel or Oosthuizen that just catches fire? It’s hard to beat everyone, every single week and Tiger having five more of those weeks, when he hasn’t won in over a year, seems unlikely. It was almost vintage Woods on Sunday. There was the fury in the game, the confidence, the ridiculous shots that so few can pull off, but there were 3 or 4 putts that didn’t drop. Add those to the ones he missed earlier in the week and you have your story. It was a nice performance by Tiger, one that makes me think he will win somewhere this year, but I doubt it will be the US Open and his next best chance to win a major will probably be this year’s PGA Championship.
The other big takeaway from this tournament has to be how global the game is becoming. Every continent was represented on the leader board, though at times the Americans were sorely lacking. The Americans who ended up finishing the highest (Woods, Bo Van Pelt and Fred Couples) are hardly young guns. I do have to give Fred a shout out for tying 16th at 51 with a totally shot back. If golf was measured in quality starts, Fred might be the king of Augusta. But Champions Tour players aside, you have to wonder where the young Americans were. Kim, Johnson, Watney, Bubba, Kuchar, Fowler. Do you see any of these kids winning a big one any time soon, or are Tiger and Phil still the U.S’s best shot?
It was a hell of an afternoon of golf viewing and those who complain about Tiger getting too much coverage, or the media being fixated on him, I’m sure all you’ll have to do is check the ratings, or ask some non-golf fans you know if they were tuned in. I think I set a personal record for text messages on Sunday afternoon–a lot coming from people who very rarely say peep about golf, and that’s the Tiger effect. This was more exciting because he was around, and his run might have been the best part of the afternoon. He came up short, though, and now we have to get accustomed to another major champion who is largely unfamiliar to most American fans.