Augusta – This makes up for the last two years.
This makes up for a celebrated golf course’s bizarre late-life growth spurt. It makes up for the bad weather and the dry finishes and for Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman, not that there’s anything wrong with Zach Johnson or Trevor Immelman, so long as we’re talking about the Shell Houston Open.
This was the Masters again.
We felt the drama on Sunday. We watched a scoreboard covered with red numbers, but impressive and proper red numbers, not the kind that made us believe we were in Wally World. We saw Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson paired together for a seeming ratings grab, only to collectively produce a thrilling fourth-round charge that seemed so implausible after three rounds of relative mediocrity.
In the end, we even got a playoff.
“What a great week,” Billy Payne said.
Great for all, and for Angel Cabrera even better. He won his first Masters and the first for anybody from South America, despite being two shots behind with two holes to play. He survived a three-man, two-hole sudden death playoff, despite sending his first playoff tee shot into the woods and another off a tree. He defeated Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry, both of whom were looking for their first major win and held leads after the second and third rounds.
“This is painful,” Perry said later. “But I felt like I was a part of something special. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
We all will. If Payne and Augusta National could have scripted the perfect bounce-back tournament, this was it. Earlier in the week, he was asked about criticism the tournament had received from players – even Woods – who believed it had lost its wow factor the last two years, in large part because of course changes.
Payne blamed the weather. He joked a lot. But he admitted: “It’s like when you go to a piano recital of one of your granddaughters and you hear somebody say, ‘Boy, that’s the worst kid I’ve ever seen.’ It hurts your feelings.”
He hoped for sunshine. He promised improvement.
We didn’t a granddaughter’s recital — we got Beethoven.
The Woods-Mickelson pairing figured to produce little more than a sideshow. Both began the day seven shots behind Cabrera and Perry. Both had nine competitors to overcome and were tied with seven others. But Mickelson birdied six of his first eight holes and Woods eagled No. 8.
Suddenly, television executives and old men in green jackets were exchanging high fives.
Even Perry, the 48-year-old near Tour-washout from Kentucky, who entertained us all week with stories of his upbringing and certainly his golf, couldn’t help but get caught up in watching Woods and Mickelson on the scoreboard.
“That’s why they are who they are and we’re down here,” he said.
He held or shared the lead for most of three days. He only surrendered it Sunday to Cabrera on the 74th hole. His scorecard was stuck on 11-under for 11 holes. His first Masters seemed assured after birdies on 12, 15 and 16 dropped him to 14-under par, two shots ahead of Cabrera and Campbell. But Perry finished the round with two bogeys and his collapse continued in the playoff, when he missed the green on the second extra hole.
Mickelson and Woods finished earlier. They gave us thrills, and then their own forgettable moments: Mickelson’s tee shot at 12 rolled into Rae’s Creek and resulted in a double-bogey and he missed a five-foot putt for eagle at 15 and another for birdie on 17. Woods followed consecutive birdies on 15 and 16 with a hook off the tee (again!) on 17 that landed in the gallery. He bogeyed the last two holes.
Both faded, but not before each were within a shot of the lead.
Mickelson later: “I don’t think either one of us were paying much attention to what we were doing. We had other guys we were trying to catch.”
Cabrera survived. Later, at the awards ceremony, some Argentine fans began to sing. Cabrera smiled.
“When they put the green jacket on, I had goose bumps,” he said. “I was shaking. I can’t even explain what was going through my body.”
We know. We saw.