Maybe we loved him because we could identify with him. We were often hitting out of the woods, from bunkers, from parking lots, just like he was. The difference? Seve Ballesteros would often make a birdie from the woods, or the bunker, or the parking lot, and he’d do it with a style and grace that was impossible not to admire and envy.
"There's so many roars that go on around Augusta. Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. There's always a roar. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at the leaderboard."
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel after his final round 66 to take the green jacket.
I pity the poor AP writer who had to bang out a recap of the madness that was this Masters Sunday. At times during the wildest final round in memory, visions of a seven-man playoff were dancing in Jim Nantz’s head, so much so that they crowded out all of Nantzie’s usual clever wordplay once Charl Schwartzel — yes, Charl Schwartzel — went birdie x 4 to win the green jacket.
That’s right — no “Charl in charge!” or “Charl-broiled!” For once, the action spoke for itself. No enhancement necessary.
It was a truly remarkable day, with a deeper cast of stars than “Ocean’s Eleven.” There was Tiger Woods, angrily charging his way up the leaderboard. There was Adam Scott, finally delivering on his potential with clutch shot after clutch shot. There was Jason Day, bulldog-tough, with the trophy wife of all trophy wives waiting for her post-round kiss. There was young superstar Luke Donald, who made a birdie for the ages at 18. There were the crafty veterans — Geoff Ogilvy, K.J. Choi, Angel Cabrera — taking turns trying to outshine the young guns.
And there was Rory McIlroy, who did a Greg Norman on his Sunday coronation and then took it like a man.
But we probably should have known what was up early in the round. After Schwartzel chipped in for birdie at 1 and drained his approach for eagle at 3, it was clearly his day, even if we didn’t know it at the time. Things like that just don’t happen on Masters Sunday unless it’s destiny.
From there, Schwartzel just hung around, biding his time, making no more moves but no big errors, until he reached the par-5 15th and switched into history-making overdrive. For the first time, a player birdied the final four holes on Sunday to win The Masters. Let me say that again. A player without a PGA Tour win or a major top 10 on his resume birdied the last four holes of the most storied golf course on earth under the most crushing pressure imaginable.
The last birdie, a slider at 18 that snuck in the side of the cup, was a fitting end to a Master-ful 67 and gave him a two-shot win. But having even a tenuous lead allowed Schwartzel to enjoy his walk up 18, the greatest moment of any golfer’s career.
“Well, I've seen it so many times sitting at home, guys walking up the 18th,” he said. “And just walking up it was such a special feeling, knowing that — I mean I only had a one-shot lead, so you don’t want to get too excited about it, you still got to win the golf tournament. But it just really felt good.
“That putt I practiced it in the practice round and I said to my caddie, I know it’s three balls outside, I’m going to hit it there and see if I can hit it with dead weight because I don’t want to leave myself too long and it managed to find the bottom of the hole.”
And now, Ernie Els’ protégé has done something that the Big Easy himself has never pulled off.
• The top seven guys on the final leaderboard all shot in the 60s. Simply spectacular golf.
• McIlroy showed class and poise by answering questions after shooting an 80. Hope Tiger was watching. Woods continues to disrespect the post-round interviewer. Dude, answering stupid questions is part of the gig.
• Tiger benefits from the what-if post-round analysis more than any other player, and I normally refuse to play that game. Everybody leaves strokes on the course. But Woods does need to shore up his short putting, which used to be automatic. That eagle miss on 15 would have been unthinkable five years ago.
• I had this thought when it looked like Adam Scott might win — this Aussie triumph would have been made possible by McIlroy pulling a Greg Norman. Irony alert.
"I'm just trying to put myself in the mix come Sunday. It's irrelevant who's there. My whole job is to get myself there with a chance with nine holes to go. That's what we've always done. And I've been successful at it in the past by doing it that way."
Tiger Woods after a second-round 66 that pulled him into a tie for third at the Masters with 36 holes to go.
Anthony Kim was close to the hole. (Just the wrong hole.)
Sergio Garcia Hits A Photographer
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Sergio hates photographers. Or at least he hates photographer's heads by the sound of it.
Charles Barkley Hits A Spectator
3 of 9
If you've ever seen Charles Barkley's swing, you would know that standing within 200 yards of him is a dangerous place to stand.
Tiger Hits A Guy In A Red Hat
4 of 9
Tiger tees off and then boom! The guy in the red hat didn't see it coming. Sniper!
Bubba Hits A Fan
5 of 9
This is why I would never attend a pro-am golf tournament. (Side note: The woman off-camera really seemed to enjoy watching someone almost get killed by Bubba's golf ball.)
Stewart Cink Draws Blood
6 of 9
The best part of these video is the quiet, hushed tones of the golf commentators broken up by the loud, "Oooh!" Gets me every time. And then he mentions how the players hate when that happens. You also know who else hates when that happens? The guy with blood running down his face because he just got hit in the head with a golf ball.
Woman Takes One For The Team
7 of 9
Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! I mean, down goes the lady! Down goes the lady!
Putt Putt Knockout
8 of 9
This one is probably fake since there's an ad at the end, but that only makes it OK to laugh.
Ian Poulter may have poked a sleeping Tiger by announcing that Woods wouldn't finish in the top 5 at Augusta. "Poulter's always right, isn't he?" Tiger said. "My whole idea is to try to win the tournament. That's what I'm trying to do."
2 of 10
Defending Masters champ Mickelson fired a warning shot that should have everyone’s attention with his win at the Shell Houston Open, where he had a 63-65 weekend. Lefty gets up for this one unlike any other. A fourth green jacket would tie him with Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
3 of 10
The Englishman ascended to No. 1 in the world late last year for the first time, only to lose the ranking to Martin Kaymer. He hasn't quite lived up to expectations in 2011, but he's posted top-3 finishes in four of his last five majors, including a runner-up at Augusta in 2010. The only thing missing from his resume is his first major championship.
4 of 10
Last time they held a major, Kaymer came out on top, and he's since ascended to the top of the World Golf Ranking. The 2010 PGA champion and European Tour money leader has the game to win anywhere.
5 of 10
He has only two career top 10s at Augusta, but he seems to have turned a corner. He beat Kaymer 3 & 2 in the finals of the Accenture Match Play in February for the biggest win of his career.
6 of 10
DJ has all the tools, but does he have the maturity to win amid the crushing Sunday pressure? He essentially blew two majors in 2010, and it remains to be seen if those failures will have any lingering effect.
7 of 10
Is this America’s top player at the moment? His results in 2011 — a win and four top 10s in five tournaments — say yes. He’ll have the chance to prove it at The Masters.
8 of 10
The Georgia Tech alum was low amateur at Augusta way back in 1998 but truly emerged in 2010, and he always plays well in Georgia. He has six top 10s in eight events so far in 2011.
9 of 10
Rory McIlroy has a very good chance to become the youngest winner of a major championship since a 21-year-old Tiger won the 1997 Masters. His torrid start on Thursday indicates that he’s in it to win it — if not this year, then soon.
Mickelson shot 63-65 over the weekend to win the Shell Houston Open.
Much like the 1,600 azaleas that line the 13th hole at Augusta National, Phil Mickelson’s game is in full bloom just in time for golf’s most prestigious gathering.
Lefty went low this weekend, shooting 63-65 to win the Shell Houston Open by three shots for his 39th career victory. As he did in 2006, when he won the week before The Masters, Mickelson arrives in Augusta riding a wave of positive momentum as he attempts to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001-02 to win back to back green jackets.
As he basked in the glow of his best weekend in almost a year, Mickelson reminded everyone that even when he’s at his best, his greatest obstacle is himself.
“It feels really good for me to have played well and to gain some momentum heading into next week,” he said. “It feels a lot like ’06 in that I needed to have a week where I kind of put it together. By that I mean, I’ve been saying all year I’m playing well but I’m not getting the scores out of it, and I’m having just kind of a lapse of focus.
“And it was even evident today on a couple shots, a basic easy chip shot on 8 that I flubbed and 3-putting 15. Those little types of lack of concentration. I’ve got to continue to work on that. Although all in all, this was one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time as far as seeing the shot and being able to hit it. So, it was a great week in that regard and great for getting momentum heading in next week.”
Mickelson, who awoke this morning to find himself ahead of Tiger Woods in the World Golf Ranking for the first time in 14 years, is hesitant to pronounce himself the favorite, but he won’t rule himself out, either.
“There’s always a bunch of guys that can win that tournament,” he said. “I don’t think the last two days should change anything on how others view that particular event. It’s wide open. There’s a lot of players that can do it. But I certainly like the way that I play the golf course, and I’m very pleased with the way my game is coming around.”
The consensus among elite players seems to be that you should skip the tournament the week prior to a major. In that regard, Mickelson flies in the face of convention. But it seems to work for him.
In PGA Tour history, only four players have won the week prior to The Masters and then gone on to win the green jacket. Mickelson, who won the BellSouth in 2006 the week before winning the Masters, is one.
“Each player as an individual golfer has to find out what’s best for them to prepare for a big event,” he said. “And I find that I tend to play my best in a major championship when I compete the week before. It gets me into competitive frame of mind, and I enjoy the challenge in only having three days between competitive rounds.
“So that for me personally works. But I know that Nicklaus and a lot of guys prefer to have the week off and kind of focus in on that one particular golf course and those shots. I understand that. There’s an argument both ways. As a player, you have to find out what works best for you as the individual.”
We know it can work for Mickelson. Will it work again this week?