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A Masters of Fate and Fortune

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – The tinkling piano strains had barely faded from the traditional CBS open when Tiger Woods turned the final round of the 75th Masters into a full-blown rock opera; the Phantom no more.

And while Tiger got going, the kid got stage fright.

Gary Player wisely cautioned in an appearance on “Live From” more than two hours before the last pairing teed off that it’s what’s inside a player that wins majors. He said we wouldn’t know about Rory McIlroy until late in the afternoon, when there’s nowhere to hide, not even between the cabins far from view at No. 10.

Through 54 holes it had all looked so good. The endless and desperate search for a new love to replace Tiger appeared to be at an end. Rory was a perfect match. He’s nice and not threatening. He signs autographs and amiably handles interviews. And he’d arrive just as Tiger did, at 21 clad triumphantly in a green jacket.

Sadly, even pathetically, there will not be another Tiger. Rory, gifted as he is, turns out to be another in a long line of young hopefuls who must suffer and learn.

Adam Scott knows. He was Rory once. Now he’s the Masters champion. Alright, he’s not the Masters winner, but in just about any other year, 12 under with birdies at 14 and 16 and a clutch par putt at 17 is good enough to win.

Birdies at 17 and 18 to finish 12 under are usually good enough to win. Jason Day didn’t.

Five birdies in a row from 12 through 16 to get to 10 under are usually good enough to win. Geoff Ogilvy didn’t.

An all time chip-in three at the 72nd hole to get to 10 under is usually good enough to win. Luke Donald didn’t.

That’s because Charl Schwarztel uncorked a closing stretch as remarkable as any in history. If Woods or Phil Mickelson had done the same, there’d be no debate. The 2011 Masters would’ve instantly been labeled the best Masters ever. Yes, better than 1986, which is still my favorite because it was the greatest Sunday by the greatest player and no one saw it coming. But this one isn’t far behind.

Guys invariably spit the bit, choke, come unglued at majors and more are lost than won. But Sunday from the opening bell was an epic display of clutch and scintillating golf by a half-dozen players on a golf course perfectly set up for a battle royal.


TIGER WOODS: Tiger has delivered two moments since his world unraveled in November 2009 where you thought, “that’s it, that’s old Tiger, he’s back.”

The first was the three-wood he sent out over the Pacific Ocean and carved back to Pebble’s 18th green on Saturday of the U.S. Open last year.

The second was the eagle at No. 8 Sunday at the Masters. And in that instant, you remember that this is what Tiger was put on this planet to do. Not to be the nicest guy in the room or the one who signs the most autographs, but the guy who ignites a fury you feel in football, letting loose that maniacal scream and the vicious right-hand fist chop that could’ve dropped George Foreman in his prime.

And then he buried the par putt on the ninth. He’d eviscerated the 7-shot deficit. Just like Old Tiger.

But as colleague Brandel Chamblee pointed out, New Tiger has demons like every other golfer, those demons that were once scared witless of Old Tiger and didn’t dare knock on his door. Old Tiger doesn’t three-putt the 12th. He might pull the 7-iron at 13, but Old Tiger finds a way to get it up and down for birdie.

Old Tiger never, ever misses the putt for eagle at 15.

So in 18 holes we witnessed this battle between Old and New Tiger. Yes, he can still will the ball into the hole. He still possesses the insane talent needed to hit the second shot to eight, to shoot 31 going out with a bogey. But on the second nine he struggled to make crucial putts. He didn’t have the signature supreme confidence to finish it off.

As for the post-round interview in which Tiger short-answered the CBS reporter, some people wondered why he has to be so coldhearted. It’s because he’s never learned to switch off the competitive burn, especially when he’s running as hot as he was having blown the Masters. And some of the best ever were also the toughest, most hard-boiled customers – Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Ray Floyd, Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Hale Irwin and Jack Nicklaus. Yes Jack. Barbara softened Jack.

There aren’t a whole lot of sweethearts at the top of the heap in sports. Michael Jordan could be nasty. Arrogance can be appealing when it’s backed up.

Could Tiger use a week in charm school? Maybe. But he’d probably skip it to work on his putting.

In any event, the galleries at Augusta didn’t appear to be as hung up on getting warmth from Tiger. They wanted heat, the kind of scorched earth heat that he generates when he’s playing explosive golf. Who doesn’t want to watch a great athlete at his best?

He’s not there yet, but he’s getting closer.


RORY MCILROY: Rory’s collapse was the most crushing since Greg Norman blew a 6-shot lead in 1996. And like Greg, Rory handled the embarrassment with admirable grace. He didn’t pout or duck the press.

As a result, Rory is a sympathetic figure. Crowds will pull for him as fervently as they pulled for Phil through all his travails.

True, Sergio once had the public’s affection at 21, but eventually became a brooding sort. Could the same happen to Rory? You never know, but at present Rory gives off a vibe of being humble and likeable.

Will Rory win majors? Sergio is now 30 and hasn’t, and we were sure at 21 he would. We do now know Rory’s not the next Tiger because Tiger would never have shot 80 at 21. Tiger ran away and hid at 21.

True, Rory is supremely talented. But Rory is now scarred and flawed. Of course, so too was Tom Watson. He blew the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a final-round 79 and went on to win eight majors. Hogan almost quit the game before winning nine.


CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Not unlike other major winners over the last few years, Charl Schwarztel wasn’t the popular guy that everyone wanted. He wasn’t in the original script just as many of the recent major winners weren’t. Stewart Cink instead of Tom Watson at the 2009 British Open, Lucas Glover instead of Phil Mickelson or David Duval at the 2009 U.S. Open and Martin Kaymer instead of Dustin Johnson at last year’s PGA Championship all immediately come to mind.

And invariably when someone does win a major, we’re quick to suppose that the floodgates will open and he’ll win multiple majors. But Davis Love III, David Duval, David Toms, Jim Furyk, Michael Campbell, Glover and Cink are all stuck on one major.

Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Kaymer and now Schwartzel are the latest meteors who may or may not stick. It’s getting harder because the pool of potential major winners is so deep and they’re coming from just about every corner of the globe. When China’s investment in golf begins to bear fruit in another decade or so, it will be even tougher.

Golf is, as you’ve heard repeatedly, unquestionably wide open.

Wide open was never more wildly entertaining than it was at the 2011 Masters.