"Instant Classic": Reflections on a Perfect Masters

From its stirring beginning with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus hitting the ceremonial first drives on Thursday, to the incredible moment of Phil Mickelson hugging wife Amy so long it seemed like he would never let her go, this was a Masters which–with all due respect to the likes of Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman–will go down in the books as a uniquely dramatic and compelling four days. With Mickelson still answering questions in the press tent at Augusta, here are some early reflections:

MICKELSON AND WOODS AS SKYWALKER AND DARTH VADER
As Tiger Woods struggled through the weekend with one expression of disgust after another, while Mickelson maintained his ‘happy warrior’ demeanor even as he carried a heavy burden, I found the fan in me gradually turning against Tiger in a way that has led to some ruminations in the aftermath. Why? Obviously there are plenty of people who were done with Tiger even before the Masters, but I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t a blind Tiger fan either — but I was willing to basically “get over it” and get on with watching, and rooting for, Tiger as he pursues Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. But then as I was treated to the spectacle of good guy Phil (and not to mention K J Choi, Anthony Kim, and Lee Westwood) vs dour, slightly chaotic Tiger, some interesting reactions occurred. In the past, I’ve been generally willing to overlook Tiger’s outbursts on the course — no one is perfect and they certainly don’t have microphones on the court at NBA games, or NFL or MLB games, for that matter. But there was an underlying assumption about Tiger’s core character — an assumption that the outbursts were his only flaw. Now, knowing his many other flaws–and with Phil there as a counterpoint–I found myself turning against Tiger and seeing him as petulant, arrogant, and a little bit annoying. Maybe more than a little. And I’m not sure this would have been clear to me if Tiger had been chasing, for example, Trevor or Zach or any other colorless journeyman pro. So in the end, Tiger began to take on the aura of Darth Vader (remember he was a Jeddi before he fell), and Phil ‘the good guy’ was Luke Skywalker.

Consider the chaotic soul of Tiger — his game on Sunday mirrored it. He was up, he was down, but in the end he was disgusted and disinterested (the crazy slap-at-it missed puts, the dismissive wave when his birdie dropped on 18) and ready to get out of Augusta as fast as possible to go home to–what? Elin certainly wasn’t waiting for him. It will be a lonely night tonight for Tiger unless he slilps back into his former persona.

And then consider Phil, carrying enormous family burdens but ultimately blessed by their support, and powered by his love, and their love — and you can’t help but feel that justice was somehow served on a golden twilight Sunday in Augusta.

THE ROARS ARE BACK–THIS IS HOW AUGUSTA SHOULD BE SET UP
Whoever got the Augusta brain trust to set up the course the way they did this time should win a special award. Not only did it cause the cream to rise to the top, with the top four on Sunday including 3 of the 4 world ranking leaders, but it produced a sick exciting tournament that probably did more for the worldwide popularity of the sport than anything since Tiger’s emergence as a global sporting icon. Did you see Adam Scott’s ridiculous hole-out eagle on Sunday? Or Tiger’s hole-out eagle that turned his round around and gave him a chance when all hope seemed lost? Or Phil’s hole-out eagle earlier in the week? Or Phil’s sick six iron (say it three times fast) through the trees and over Ray’s Creek on 15? How many eagles were there? How many roars? In the past, there has been a feeling that the gods of Augusta want to protect the course and produce a respectable winning score of single digits below par. But this year proved that the real measure is not whether the winning score is “x” shots below part — it’s how well does the course bring the best out in the best players, and how much excitement does the course produce. This year was the ultimate celebration of what Augusta has to offer. I hope they don’t change it out of a miss-placed desire to protect par.

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