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 Another Thing

Yet another amazing Masters
The denouement to this year's goings-on at Augusta has overshadowed the fabulous golf Charl Schwartzel produced - and one can see why

This year’s was an extraordinary Masters, one of those where the only place to watch the action on Sunday was on television. If you were there, you’d almost certainly find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even if you did happen to see Tiger Woods make his eagle at the 8th and/or miss the short putt he had for another at the 15th, you’d assuredly be missing Adam Scott making one of the birdies that would propel him to the head of the field and fail to witness Rory McIlroy demonstrating with brutal explicitness that whereas the Masters cliché has it the tournament doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday, it can end there as well – indeed, in his case it only took three holes to take him out of the lead and off the leaderboard.

And that’s not counting Charl Schwartzel. To recap, he chipped in from 60 feet for a birdie at the 1st, holed a wedge shot for an eagle at the 3rd, and closed with four straight birdies. That’s seven under par right there. His final round was a six-under 66. Granted, the birdie putt he made from 20 feet at the last was delivered with the comfort of knowing he had two putts for the green jacket, but golfing posterity may go more overboard about just what an achievement that was than most people outside South Africa did at the time.

If Schwartzel’s four-hole flourish did tend to be somewhat overlooked, that was because so much had gone on, including perhaps in particular to two men.

First, Rory. This was the second major championship in the last three in which he’s shot an 80. In the Open at St Andrews, the carnage had occurred on the second day, allowing sufficient time for reparation that would see him finish third. He also placed third at the USPGA, which made it seem perfectly logical that he would have what was needed to take a four-shot third-round lead at Augusta all the way from the first tee, through the 18th green and into the Butler Cabin. Subsequently he has suggested he wasn’t ready to win a major, adding: “Hopefully I'll be able to get myself in those positions more often in my career and sooner or later it’s going to happen where it finally clicks and I’m able to handle the whole thing a lot better.”

Rory McIlroy can expect to be in contention in more majors and next time he'll hope to play a lot better on Sunday

Everyone will hope so, not least for the grace he showed amid his massive disappointment in dealing with media interviews and fan commiserations. In 1996, Greg Norman had gone from six shots ahead to five behind Nick Faldo after shooting a closing 78, a collapse rendered the more stark because they were effectively the only two men on Sunday who were competing to win. McIlroy’s unravelling took place while pretty much the entire field seemed to be on 10 under par, so why would the cameras concentrate on watching a charming young man go through hell when there was high drama elsewhere?

The truth is that McIlroy’s chances of victory and his grasp on the lead looked perilous from the moment he three-putted the 1st. (That, combined with Schwartzel’s pyrotechnics meant – whoomph, just like that! – his four-shot lead had gone up in smoke before he’d reached the 2nd green.) Rory had putted well enough for three days but doing it again in the final round, when in contention, required another level. He has yet to find that level and find it a comfortable place to be, and that will likely not be easy. He is a wonderful ball-striker and an engaging personality, but at the time of writing he has only won two tournaments and history suggests that not many golfers who aren’t called Bernhard Langer improve their putting with age. And as the career of Sergio Garcia has demonstrated to date, no one is ever “certain to win a major one day”.

And then there’s Tiger. Which one is the real thing now – the one who fired a blistering 31on the front nine on Sunday or the one who faltered on the back? I guess we still have to wait to find out about that but, while this is unprovable, I figure the pre-car crash Tiger would not have reacted to getting to 10 under par and a share of the lead as he walked off the 8th green by playing the remaining holes in level par. Under the gun, with a major on the line, the Tiger of old would not have three-putted from 25 feet at the 12th or missed from four feet on the 15th. At least he’d never have done both.

There are two things, I think. First, he’s lost that other-worldly ability to make things happen the way he did in the past – the 15-foot putt that got him into the playoff for the 2008 US Open was never going to be anywhere else but in the hole. Second, while he is rightly and inevitably hugely respected for his talent, the rest aren’t scared of him anymore. They know he’s beatable, he knows he’s beatable, and they know he knows he’s beatable. And so, increasingly, he gets beaten.

June 2011


Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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