The Prodigal Son Returns to Masters

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So Tiger didnt make it. And Mike Weir did. But the guy I was really pulling for just missed, by the length of a pulled approach shot from a hanging lie.
 
Tiger was his usual polite self in defeat. Weir is a terribly nice guy who, against almost anyone else, would have been widely hailed as the peoples choice. But how could anyone possibly not root for Len Mattiace?
 
Reasons? First, his natural personality is totally non-assuming - always. Second, he was so classy five years ago when he melted down on Sunday at No. 17 at The Players Championship. And third, his comeback from his third-round position was well, absolutely Tiger-like.
 
Until about the last 30 minutes, it looked like Mattiaces improbable comeback was just going to be another feel-good story ' a mercurial blur played out while the real champion was busy grinding his way around the back nine. But then, after big makes on 16 and 17 and a gritty grind-it-out bogey on 18, Mattiace became a major player in the battle to decide the championship.
 
And then, suddenly, it was over. Weir had played solidly, beautifully all day, and you knew that unless Mattiaces brilliance somehow lasted into extra holes, Weir was going to win. And of course, that is exactly what happened.
 
I know one is going to win and one is going to lose, Mattaice said afterwards philosophically. So I'm OK with that. I'm trying to win. If I don't win, I lose. And that's OK.
 
In 1997, he was leading the TPC on the 71st hole when he ran afoul of the 71st hole at Sawgrass and took an 8 on the island par-3. Just to prove he wasnt irretrievably scarred, he wound up making birdie on the 72nd hole.
 
He won for the first time last year, at the Nissan Open. Then he repeated his feat by winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic. And hes been a solid player since then, if not necessarily a big winner.
 
But his biggest contribution to the Masters field was the class he brings. He makes you think that everyones important, from the fans to the tournament organizers to the volunteers.
 
It was the whole week. It was the whole week of being in such a great place, he said.
 
He was under the utmost pressure and of everything that was going around, and the cheers and the crowd were great. That's all you can ask for. And I made some putts and I executed some shots. So it was my best Sunday - it was my best major championship finish ever, obviously, but my best Sunday in a major ever.
 
He wasnt ashamed to let us see deep inside. I think it's emotional for people who care, he said. For people who care, it's an emotional thing.
 
If you don't care, as well as anything, if you don't care, it's no big deal. But if you care and you really want it and it really goes to your heart, then it's probably going to be emotional, I would think. The emotions come out. It may be emotional to some people inside where you don't see it. But for the emotions to come out, that's maybe part of the individual makeup.
 
It was his first time as a professional to play Augusta. When he was a brash young yearling 15 years ago, he played here as an amateur Walker Cupper. Not in his wildest imagination did he think it would take him 15 years before he would make a return trip.
 
No, I wouldn't have thought that, being the college stud - you know - that I thought I was, he said, proving that he had a normal collegians sense of self-importance.
 
But golf isnt that way. The Masters is really not that way. Dream on, brother
 
Going out of college, all-American, zipping right into the pros and win my first and second year top-30 ever since, all those good things, he said, remembering those long-ago days when he was just waiting for all the wonderful things to happen.
 
That's what I was thinking, and/or at least be on the tour right after college, which was about 1990 (when) I finished school. And my first year was '93, but I didn't get back until '96. So it was slower than I thought.
 
Along the way, though, Mattiace has matured into something pretty special. And for 2003 at least, his game at the Masters developed into something pretty special. Len Mattiace was a winner to a lot of people, even if he lost on the scoreboard.
 

Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Photo Gallery
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology