The Masters at Augusta – Beautiful and Deadly

Winning the at Augusta Takes Greatness, All Crammed into One Week

So much thought has gone into the Masters since I saw my first one somewhere in the 1950s. Yes, the course at Augusta is exquisitely beautiful, making it a star attraction, but there’s more to it than that.  Among the winners, usually men of consistently great play throughout their careers, it seems to bring out the best. Those who were not usually considered top players who occasionally won the tournament experienced a lifetime of greatness, their zenith, all packed into a seven-day period. They were rarities. Just to play in the Masters was an honor, not only because of the event, but by being thought good enough to take on such a high-pressure, top-course event. They wouldn’t have asked you to come if they didn’t think you could deliver. The 2018 version is only a few days away, and the names are once more emerging. There is still a group of players who can hang with a great one through a few days of another tournament, but can they hang with a great one on this course? Not usually.

It’s a step up from most weeks on the tour. Many famous courses have features on individual holes like signatures, but Augusta is an obstacle course without long predictable stretches of normal golf. It is endlessly interesting, and dangerous. I don’t believe that I have seen a boring Masters in my life. It’s not set up for that. Winners have taken the trophy via incredible shots or rallies, such as Bubba Watson’s wedge, 50 yards out, and 50 yards right, fifteen feet away. When he came out of the woods, it was like finding Dr. Livingston. The Masters has been the site for infamous catastrophes. In 1946, Ben Hogan missed a two-footer to lose, and it didn’t even touch the cup. Gary Player won two of his Masters trophies by not choking while someone else did. In 1961, Palmer handed it to him by playing pinball with a TV tower, a horrible chip, and a putt that ran fifteen feet by the hole. Hubert Green handed Player another one in 1978, as Player refused to get rattled. In 1979, Ed Sneed blew a three-shot lead by bogeying the last three holes, and in 1989, Scott Hoch’s putter lost the lead and put him in a playoff with Nick Faldo. A victim of what one writer called “paralysis by analysis,” he three-putted, the last from two and a half feet. More recent versions of the event have seen it, too. In 1996, Greg Norman started Sunday with a six-stroke lead, and lost by 5 shots in an 11 stroke swing to Faldo. Rory McIlroy lost it in 2006 with a four-shot lead which evaporated entirely by the 11th hole. A triple bogey on 10 and a four-putt double on 12 sealed the deal. Most recently, in 2016, Jordan Spieth led by 5 in the final round, then hit Rae’sCreek, literally. After a quad bogey, he lost by three to Danny Willett.
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It’s that course. I don’t think that a muni player could ever survive it. One can collapse on any hole without warning, but Augusta is more than willing to help. The damage it can inflict is large and lethal. It does cause one sensation that muni players understand, and that is the titanic collapse. I have often thought back to my 10s and 11s watching the Masters, and thinking, “Now you know what it feels like.”

Who knows who is on the right track to win this year. All eyes are, of course, on Tiger, who seems to have attained rejuvenation at precisely the right time. That doesn’t mean that he will manage to “pop” on this particular week, but he looks good. Rory, Jason, Bubba, or a host of others? Impossible to say. Whoever wins this years Masters will need to stay out of trouble better than everyone else for four days, not choke when someone else does, and make all of his three-footers. There’s a lot of pressure to all of that, but somebody will hold it all together and wear that green jacket.

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