I have told all of you for many, many years that my favorite major is The Masters. After this past week, do any of you still take exception to my statement?
This was, perhaps by far, one of the best majors in recent memory. The leaderboard was packed with players, each performing at the top of his game. You had a villain and a hero in the same person. You had the young guns firing every shot they had. You had guys stepping up and guys falling apart.
Then you had Tiger Woods. The man knows how to play on this stage better than anyone in the game right now, and maybe ever. Although if a genie were to grant me a couple of wishes, I would love to see Jack Nicklaus and Tiger play one round, each being the man they were at the top of their game. That would be amazing theatre.
Since that scenario is quite unlikely, I will settle for the show we had this past Sunday. And what a show it was!
As many of you know, I am not Tiger’s biggest fan. I used to be a big fan, but his attitude toward so many put me off. I remember just the two of us talking after his Sunday round at the Disney World Golf Classic back in 1997. He was fresh off a year in which he had won his first Masters. He was open and friendly. Sadly, between some of the media and others demanding much of his time, and a bit of arrogance and ego, he became someone many people didn’t like.
Tiger seems to have changed a bit over the past year or two. He seems to be open and friendly again. Perhaps the realization that he may never be able to get out of bed easily, play with his children, or play golf at this level again brought him to see how fortunate he is.
The saying is that The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. That was so true this year. You had a cast of characters that were teenagers when Tiger was dominating the game. Many had never felt the kind of pressure seeing his name climbing up the leaderboard would send through their bodies. Then came the back nine on Sunday.
Being a seasoned veteran, Tiger knows the pressure one feels when trying to win a major. Looking for his first major since 2007, he was feeling it himself. He felt is last year when he led the Open and was close to the lead at the PGA Championship during the final round, only to hit a few bad shots and fall.
His plan for this Sunday was to hang close, not take any stupid chances, wait for the others to make their mistakes, and then pounce. Early on the back nine it looked like his plan would see him finish two or three shots back of Francesco Molinari.
Tiger kept his patience, knowing that he could attack the par-5s and give himself an opportunity to make up two or three strokes there if he needed. Until then, he would be patient.
Molinari and the some of the close pursuers crashed at the par-3 12th. Molinari, who had been striking the ball so well all week, suddenly hit his tee shot 15 yards short of his target and found water. It was the beginning of his end. You could tell by his body language that he was struggling with the pressure. Tiger saw it as well.
Tiger would birdie 13 and 15 and as the final group walked off the 15th hole, he found himself with a one-shot lead. He has hit some fantastic shots in his career. I have been known to say that the man sucks all the luck out of the game to use for himself. The tee shot he hit on 16, considering the pressure, the moment, and the demons he has fought of late, may be the best shot I have ever seen him hit.
His knowledge of the course, and in particular the 16th green, came in quite handy. He nearly carded an ace. His tee shot slipped just by the hole as it came down the hill and settled within two-feet. The birdie gave him a two-shot lead and breathing room. At that moment everyone knew it was over and you know the resounding roar that went up told the remaining players on the course the same news.
I so enjoyed this past Sunday. I only wish that my parents were still here to watch it with me. My mom would have been cheering for Molinari. My father would have been cheering for anyone but Tiger. In the end, however, I think we would have all agreed that the best player won. It was a day that was great for golf. Thank you, gentlemen. That was fantastic theatre.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at email@example.com.