Woods Falls Victim to Back Nine Miscues


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If the millions watching from their living room couches werent paying close attention Sunday, they might have thought this was quite a Masters.
Trevor Immelman made a hole-in-one. Tiger Woods chipped one from nowhere and the ball hung on the edge of the hole before dropping.
Great shots were breaking out all over the back nine, and with each one the roars seemed only to get louder.
Unfortunately, none was from this year.
Hard to blame CBS for showing highlights of previous Masters even while this one was going on. A senior bowling tournament would have been more interesting than this snoozefest.
By the time Immelman gagged his way in, almost everyone else had already gagged and gone home. He didnt so much win this green jacket as inherit it, and even the great Woods wasnt able to do anything about it.
Listen to the hushed tones of those who worship in the cathedral of golf that is Augusta National, and theyll tell you the Masters doesnt begin until the back nine on Sunday. On this Sunday, they might as well have saved us all the trouble and given Immelman the green jacket just for making it through the front nine without making too much of a mess of himself.
Zach Johnson may not have been the most exciting player ever to win the Masters, but at least he won it with a flurry of birdies on the back nine when it counted most. All well remember Immelman for is hooking his tee shot into the water on the par-3 16th when he had a five-shot lead he seemed destined to blow.
Turns out the new Masters champion could have put another Nike ball in the pond and still survived. No one else seemed to want this green jacket.
The three players right behind Immelman as the day started made their combined way around the course in a staggering 18-over-par. The greatest player ever couldnt even break par.
This wasnt so much a major championship as a NASCAR race, complete with wrecks scattered everywhere. Immelman emerged the three-stroke winner with a fat final round of 75 only because he was in the final group where it was easier to take a caution lap.
Woods managed a forced laugh afterward, but Brandt Snedeker took it personally. The aw-shucks kid with the Opie Taylor looks stood, head in hand, crying his heart out after the biggest day of his young career went bad.
I was laughing outside, Snedeker said. Im crying in here.
The only surprise was that more players werent crying under the pressure of trying to play perhaps the greatest course in the world in the final round of the Masters. Their job was made even worse by swirling winds that left even Woods guessing at yardages most of the time.
The green jackets who run the Masters wanted nothing more than a back nine filled with the kind of shots CBS kept showing from previous years, but even they didnt have the power to control Mother Nature. They tried to compensate by moving tees up and sticking pins in inviting spots, but a course already playing slick and fast turned into a monster that even the best players in the world had no clue how to tame.
Steve Flesch was doing better than most, cruising along only two shots from the lead at even par for the day when his 8-iron didnt even come close to clearing the water on the treacherous par-3 12th. On a course where eagles and birdies are usually available coming in, he played the last six holes a whopping 6-over-par.
There were similar tales of woe everywhere. Snedeker made only six pars all day on his way to a 77, while Paul Casey barely broke 80 after starting the day just four shots back. A day after the 45 weekend survivors made their way around the course in a combined 26-over-par, they were 120 over in the final round.
Its kind of like trying to breathe air at the top of Mount Everest; theres just not a whole lot of options left over, Stewart Cink said. Youve got a lot of lungs pounding in and out.
Even Woods seemed baffled by it all, just as he had been all week. Woods might have been the only player at Augusta National who wanted the wind to blow, but when it, did he couldnt take advantage of it. And, of all the majors that got away, this one may be the one he remembers most because it was there for the taking among a group of pretenders who hadnt been there before.
The enduring image of Woods at this Masters wont be one of him pumping his fist after making a 70-footer for birdie on No. 11, but hitting a shot from around a tree two holes later. The only thing his birdie putt on the final hole did was give him undisputed second place and the satisfaction of matching par 72 on a day when par seemed much higher.
The green jackets had to be horrified by it all, even more than they were a year earlier when they were criticized for making the course too tough for any fun to break out on the final day. Excitement usually reigns on the back nine, but the final six players could only manage seven birdies.
Almost fittingly, the day ended with the storied course taking one final insult. The wind was one thing, but the sight of Immelmans tee shot on the 18th hole sitting in a nasty divot on the otherwise perfectly manicured fairway is one that will haunt the people who run the Masters for the next year.
Their only consolation is that not many people were still watching.
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