Turning Back the Clock

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2009, 4:00 pm
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AUGUSTA , Ga. ' Thursday at Augusta National, henceforth known as old-timers day, was a perfect respite for scoring, pimento cheese sandwiches on finely clipped turf and strolls down memory lane, be the memories magical or of the mental baggage variety.
Sun draped fairways gave way to the Shark easing through familiar waters and Larry Mize making magic with wedges some 22 years after he clipped Greg Norman on his way to the games most coveted tailor.
To put Thursdays opening edition in context, John Merrick was 5 years old the last time Mize and Norman were two-stepping around Amen Corner, but theater like 1987 has no self life and Merrick is blessed with a built-in historian in swing coach Jamie Mulligan.
I told him about 87, recalls Mulligan, making his 19th trip to the seasons first major championship. I remember being there when (Mize) chipped in (on No. 11) and seeing him riding in the cart with tears in his eyes.
Merrick listened, and on his way to a crafty 4-under 68 was mindful of the historical significance of his playing companions own card ' a turn-back-the-clock 67 that landed Mize an unlikely spot among the first-day leaders.
I think I said, Good shot Larry, on almost every tee shot, Merrick says.
Whether the two are inching their way toward Act II of their classic Masters duel really doesnt matter. Professionals live in the moment and avoid nostalgia like they do downhill 8 footers on icy putting surfaces.
It is particularly important for Norman to avoid the mental history books. There are too many memories this side of Washington Road for the Australian and at 54 years old the time for second-guessing is long over.
Try as the assembled media masses might to rehash Normans 1987 duel with Mize and the Sharks 96 collapse he was having no part of it. New wife, Chris Evert, would never allow it.
Everybody wants to live in the past, Norman says.
The script, however, is far to compelling to succumb to Normans new-found clarity. If any player ever deserved a cosmic make good it is Norman, but thats not the way the game is played and he knows it.
He will don the blinders and shoulder on like he did last year at Royal Birkdale, but that opening 70 is far too compelling to write off as simply the first leg of a marathon.
Besides, Normans Masters demons may be self inflicted, but they are hardly exclusive territory. Normans pain transcends personal disappointed and has manifested itself in a collective malaise.
Australia remembers 1996. Geoff Ogilvy remembers 1996. He was a 19 year old up-and-comer from Victoria and awoke that Sunday morning with Christmas-in-April expectations.
When the coverage starts, then it started when the leaders came up 9. (Ken) Venturi is saying (Normans approach) came up short of the green and that's the first thing we saw in Australia, Ogilvy recalls. It was a hard thing to watch. You couldn't stop watching it. It was a pretty down day in Australia.
And its not just the Australians who still lament the Sharks plunge. Asked on Thursday if he ever feels sorry for beating Norman in 1987, Mizes mind flashes forward nine years to 96.
I probably have more compassion with the (Nick) Faldo thing where Faldo played a great round and Greg didn't play his best and he got beat there, Mize says. I probably feel more compassion there.
Two players could hardly have more divergent karma at a single event then Norman and Mize. For Norman, if he were to allow the thought to occur, the place is all pain. For Mize, Augusta National is the pinnacle.
When Mize was 9 years old he worked the scoreboard at No. 3, trolled the practice range for autographs and players tees and learned the game on the other side of the fence at Augusta Country Club.
He recalls playing in his first Masters in 1984 and being so nervous during his practice rounds that he forged a fragile calm that carried him through the first round.
In fact, given the quirky nature of Augusta National its hardly surprising that at 50 Mize was able to plod his way into the top 10 on Thursday. The games ultimate puzzle requires patience and knowledge almost as much as it demands a steady putting stroke and superior iron play.
At a place like this, experience is always a good thing. I think experience is good anywhere, but here maybe even more, Mize says. We are old guys fighting as best we can.
Score one for the old guys, a victory for the aged. But then neither Mize nor Norman are interested in sentimental triumphs, before they know it Fridays tee time will be beckoning.

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