We are very comfortable with what we are doing with the golf course for the Masters Tournament, said the Augusta National Golf Club chairman during Wednesdays press conference.
In other words: to keep players from hitting a damn pitching wedge into every green.
But that may have been a veiled explanation. There may well have been an ulterior motive to the alterations.
Pride and prejudice are to Augusta National members like green and jacket.
But this has nothing to do with race or gender; it has to with prestige and pedigree.
Masters champions are a rare and special breed. When you look down the list of past winners, from Horton Smith in 34 to Tiger Woods in 05, few names seem out of place (see Claude Harmon, Charles Coody, Herman Keiser, Tommy Aaron and Larry Mize).
And thats the way Johnson and Co. want to keep it.
They have, I believe, no desire to drape their rayon and wool around the shoulders of Ben Curtis or Shaun Micheel or Todd Hamilton or Rich Beem. That was evident when they rescinded invitations to all PGA TOUR winners in 2000, saying, in essence, Winning the B.C. Open does not make you worthy of playing in our toonamint.
By making this course even longer and even tougher, theyve significantly reduced the chances of a surprise winner, and further increased the winning odds ' which were already great to begin with ' of Woods and Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Theyve given more hope to Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
Thats just what they wanted to do; and, judging by this years results, thats just what theyve achieved.
Thats not to say that they would have been opposed to seeing Fred Couples or Jose Maria Olazabal win again; or perhaps the well-established and popular Darren Clarke; or some player on the cusp of greatness ' maybe even an up-and-coming Chad Campbell.
But while Rocco Mediate would make for a great story at the U.S. Open, and Miguel Angel Jimenez and his ponytail would look nice holding the claret jug, and Tim Clark may one day be a fine winner of the PGA ' Masters champions, in Green Jacket eyes, they are not.
At least, it seems, they would prefer them not to be.
By contrast, golf observers, at least those who arent rooting for or against any one player, are more interested in the race than the ultimate outcome. We care more about who is contending and how hotly the contest is being contested, as opposed to who first crosses the line.
The leaderboard during this final round was a fans dream. There wasnt a What the hell? name in the mix.
While the Green Jackets may have been rooting for a Big Five winner, fans were just happy to see them all with a chance at the start of the day. If Mediate, Jimenez or Clark should best them, then so be it.
Of course, none of them did.
This had all the makings of a glorious, sunset Sunday finish.
The leaderboard was outstanding, but U.S. Open-style groans seemed to far outnumber Masters-style roars. Bird chirps echoed in the silent pines.
Eagles and birdies were replaced, for the most part, with pars and bogeys ' and whatever in the world you call Mediates 10 on the par-3 12th.
To be fair, though, Olazabal did shoot 66, and should have shot at least 65.
And, while it wasnt a 31 this time around, Mickelson did close with a 35 for a 69 and an overall 7-under 281, which was equal to or lower than seven of the last 13 winning totals. He didn't make a bogey until it didn't matter.
Any lack of scoring by the field, it appeared, was attributable more to nerves and missed putts than to an inability to handle the courses length.
All in all, red numbers mattered little to the Augusta faithful.
They got everything they wanted out of this, the 70th Masters Tournament.
They got the course they wanted. They got the leaderboard they wanted. And, most importantly to them, they got the champion they wanted.
Which brings us to this: should Mickelson win the next two major championships, he will complete the career Grand Slam. And, having won the 2005 PGA Championship, should he win the next two, he will have won all four in succession.
It's time to start talking about the possibility of: the 'MickelSlam.'
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