A Cruel and Beautiful Game

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Hooks and Cuts on Golfs Winding Trail, Part Two
 
Editor's Note: This is the second of a special, three-part Lerner's Journal, as Rich recounts his recent road trip covering the Masters, the Hootie & the Blowfish tournament and the LPGA in Las Vegas. Read part one, 'The King and His Scribes', here.
 
I left the Golf Writers of America banquet in Myrtle Beach Sunday night at 11, drove two and a half hours to Columbia, rested for five, then slid into Augusta Nationals muddy parking lot off Washington Road at about 8:30 Monday morning.
 
Masters FansThe rain was pelting. The skies were different shades of dark'like all the smoke stacks had conspired to choke off any chance of sunlight. It was a no-hope-for-a-nice-day look. In the car, I took a few minutes to brace myself for the elements. I put the rain suit on.
 
I didnt take it off until Friday.
 
Black is in. Up and down the range all week at the Masters, I saw little but a phalanx of black rain suits, some of the models so tailored and slick you couldve worn them to a wedding at the Waldorf.
 
At last, we got our first look at Larry Mizes striped shirt on Saturday. The suits discarded, it was warm, sunny and it felt good to be alive. It felt good to be free of rain.
 
By Sunday, all focus shifted to two men, Len Mattiace and Mike Weir. All the talk of weather, Martha Burk, Hootie Johnson, even Tiger Woods, simply dissipated like the morning dew.
 
On a sunny and truly spectacular spring day, the Masters returned in all its splendor. There was a meaningful second nine eagle - Mattiaces at 13.
 
There was a clutch birdie at 16 - Mattiace again.
 
There was a gallant response to Mattiaces own heroics - by mighty Mike Weir.
 
His par putt at the 72nd was the definition of clutch - no time left, your teams down by two, youre at the line in front of 20,000 plus, millions more on TV, and anything less than both free throws and you lose.
 
Of course he poured it in. As he did pretty much everything he looked at all week. Weir going putt-for-putt with Mattiace on Augustas greens with the jacket on the line was like watching Greg Maddux in his prime tangle with Pedro Martinez in a 1-0, nine-inning, no-reliever pitchers duel. More fine art than raw power.
 
Now Weirs the early leader for Player of the Year, based on quality and quantity of wins. For sheer numbers hes tied with Davis and Tiger. But his 72nd-hole gut check at Augusta was the moment of the year.
 
Just as vivid as Weirs 72nd-hole putt is the image of Mattiace, crying before the cameras. The 2003 Masters that opened with the skies pouring closed with water of a more visceral nature, the tears of an emotionally exhausted professional.
 
Golf can be cruel sometimes. The man just shot 65, and on that course and under that kind of Sunday major championship pressure, that should be reason to rejoice. But when the game demands that you be better than 65 on Sunday at the Masters, and you do all you can to meet that brutally difficult standard and you fall just short, it must bewell something with which most of us just arent familiar. And so Len had himself a good cry. Rare when athletes open themselves up that honestly.
 
The lesson of Len Mattiace at the 2003 Masters is that golf asks much at that level. It gives much, too. I knew that when I saw Mike Weir several hours later, dressed in the green jacket inside the clubhouse, embracing his loved ones.
 
Tomorrow, Rich heads back to Myrtle Beach for some laughs at The Hootie and The Blowfish Celebrity Pro Am, then heads to Vegas with the LPGA