AUGUSTA, Ga. – I’m often asked this question in advance of major championships and this week’s upcoming Masters is no different: “So, who are you rooting for?”
My answer is unfailingly consistent: “The best story.”
What are the best possible stories at the conclusion of this edition of the tournament? Here are five that I would love to write come Sunday evening:
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Golf has a few magic numbers. Eighteen is the all-too-familiar number of major victories for the all-time leader, Jack Nicklaus. Fifty-nine is the lowest score recorded in an official PGA Tour event. And then there’s 63, the lowest total posted in a major, a record shared by 25 players. Until Sunday, that is, when one man took advantage of soft greens, firing at flagsticks all day to shoot the first-ever 62 at a major and claim the Masters title.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – One year ago, the 10th hole served as Rory McIlroy’s personal Waterloo, his tee shot hitting a tree branch and caroming toward rarely seen cabins, from which he posted a triple-bogey en route to dropping from first on the leaderboard to T-15 when it was all over. So it was sweet revenge when McIlroy hit his approach shot on the very same hole Sunday to within tap-in range for a birdie that vaulted him into a lead he would never relinquish on his way to clinching the green jacket.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fifteen years ago, Tiger Woods burst onto the major championship scene in a big way, winning his first as a professional by a whopping 12 strokes. This time, he was hardly a newcomer and not unaccustomed to winning majors, but the differential remained the same, as Woods cruised to yet another 12-shot victory for his fifth Masters title, putting him just one behind all-time leader Jack Nicklaus.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – If you think about it, it’s actually surprising that this doesn’t happen more often. After all, so many proficient professional golfers, so tightly packed on the leaderboard, playing the same holes for four straight days. And yet, more often than not, one player is deemed the winner after 72 holes; on occasion, two or three players will tie and head to a playoff. But this many competitors? Their names all dead even atop the leaderboard when regulation was complete? This was a groundbreaking day, indeed.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – It was officially Turn Back the Clock Day during the final round at Augusta National Golf Club. Sure, names like those of Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington on the leaderboard certainly helped, but this was all about two other guys. Tom Watson and Fred Couples were both thought to have their best years behind them, but playing in the final pairing together on Sunday, they looked anything but old-timers, producing a two-man race for the ages – literally – that concluded with the oldest major champion ever slipping into the familiar green jacket at day’s end.