What else can you say to Tiger Woods winning the Master’s in 2019, 11 years after his last major victory and 14 years since his last win in Augusta? It was a pretty insane weekend down at Augusta National.
First, a big shout out to Mother Nature. Usually if I’m discussing her I’m calling her a bitch. But by threatening severe storms in Georgia, and thus moving the tournament’s final round up to Sunday morning, and also raining out C’s track meet here in Indy, I was able to watch every second of Sunday’s glorious coverage.
Well, not every second. I took a 15 minute break around 10:30 to get a quick shower just in case I was forced to leave the house at some point. That shower came at a good time, right when Tiger had had a rough patch on the front nine. My showering seemed to both improve my odor and his game, as he was birdieing #7 when I sat back on the couch.
Favorite shot of the week: I think the easy choice is Tiger’s tee shot on 16 Sunday, that was pretty much perfect. Well, not as perfect as Bryson Dechambeau or Justin Thomas, who both carded aces earlier in the day. Tiger’s missed the cup by about three inches and left him with a tap-in for birdie. Pretty, pretty good.
But I’ll go with something that came earlier and was more impressive. His first putt on #9. It was a tricky 40 or so footer. He aimed well away from the hole to grab the ridge and then had to get the speed just right so that the ball didn’t zoom past the hole once it caught the downslope. It was a ridiculous shot that took nearly 20 seconds from impact to when it came up inches shy of the hole. Twice it looked like it was coming to a dead stop, only to find a nudge of gravity to slowly rotate again. It was utterly insane. One writer I follow, who has seen a lot of golf, said it was the best lag putt he had ever seen. Tiger was not hitting the ball great at this point, and it seemed like Francesco Molinari was going to par his way to the title. But that putt showed that Tiger was capable of something no one else was and, I believe, gave him confidence in himself for the back nine.
And, come on, that might have been the greatest back nine ever. The final two groups to go through 12 put four balls in Rae’s Creek. I was literally yelling at the TV, “OH MY GOD!!!” as balls kept coming up short. In the midst of that, Tiger hits a sublime and safe shot, pars the hole, and is suddenly tied for the lead. Molinari hits a terrible second shot on 15, then catches a tree branch and ends up in the water again, effectively ending his day. Meanwhile Tiger is striping the ball off the tee, looking like his vintage self.
But wait. Up ahead Brooks Koepka, Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Xander Shauffele, and Patrick Cantlay are all trying to get into it. I’m pretty sure there was a two or three minute stretch were 20 or 30 guys were tied for the lead. Cantlay momentarily took the lead with an eagle on 15, only to play 16 with a brutal bogey. My favorite tweet of the day was from someone who said, after Cantlay’s eagle, “NOT FUCKING NOW PATRICK!!!”
That kind of summed up the day. As the back nine at Augusta tends to do, it was giving us terrific drama. There was like a 15–20 minute stretch where CBS showed us an important shot every 10–15 seconds. It was both amazing and dizzying to watch. But we didn’t want drama, we wanted Tiger.
Hey, some props to CBS. They tend to take a lot of heat in the golf circles I follow for their coverage. Most folks I follow believe NBC does a much better job showing the game. Likely because it was Augusta and they aren’t totally in control, CBS mostly got out of the way and let the golf present itself. Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo did say some stupid shit, but that’s to be expected.
Further props for wiping out their morning schedule and showing golf for nearly six hours. The annual complaint about the Masters is the limited TV schedule on the weekend. Good on the Augusta management and CBS for making it work.
Another fine moment from the weekend: that freaking security guy who nearly took out Tiger on Friday. Imagine if he had actually taken Tiger’s knee out as he crashed into him???
So, really, how did this happen? No matter how good they once were, guys in their 40s with fused backs, reconstructed knees, and nearly a decade of personal issues are not supposed to come back and win majors. Not in an era that is filled with much younger, physically gifted, ridiculously talented golfers. Yet here we are and folks are talking, in dead seriousness, about Tiger running through the summer and winning the Grand Slam to tie Jack Nicklaus’ all time major championship record.
Let’s pump the breaks on that a little. It’s great that Tiger is competitive on the game’s biggest stage again. But I don’t think he’s anywhere near approaching the kind of dominance he had in his prime. Everything came together at Augusta. It probably won’t at Bethpage, Pebble Beach, or Royal Port Rush. But it’s fun that it is a possibility again. And, again, there is a huge swath of absolutely crazy talented players out there right now.
For an old time Tiger fan, I found this to be an immensely entertaining and enjoyable weekend. No matter how I feel about him as a person, it’s hard not to get sucked into the hype machine that I was so in-tune with for a decade or so. But…
As remarkable as his physical rehabilitation is – and it’s a great story – I’m still not ready to brush away his other sins. As I said last fall, I really don’t care how an athlete or entertainer lives their life. But I can find it icky, for lack of a better word. And there’s no doubt Tiger lived an icky life for a long time, wrecking his family in the process. For all the emotional outpouring that came with his embrace of his kids and mother after his win, I kept thinking about how it was his fault that his kids have had a difficult time of it. I hope he’s a changed and better man. But how do we know, because he always presented himself as a good family man before he hit that fire hydrant and shit got weird. I’m just saying let’s not act like he’s some super perfect human being now just because he suffered, learned, maybe changed, and now occasionally laughs at himself.
Oh, it probably didn’t help that this weekend I was reading Hank Haney’s The Big Miss, about his years coaching Tiger, which coincided with all the ickyness becoming public. I’ll write more about the book later but it was a reminder that Tiger dug his own holes with both the icky behavior and a long run of strange behavior that likely caused/contributed to his physical breakdown.
So Tiger the guy, I’m still not on board with. Tiger the golfer? Yeah, I’m totally down with him, especially after this remarkable, unforgettable weekend at the Masters.
- I haven’t mentioned Rory McIlroy yet, maybe the best of the bunch, who had a rough weekend in Georgia. ↩