April 16, 2014
By Loran Smith
April 15, 2014
AUGUSTA --- The Masters is more than an exciting finish, although the centerpiece of this extraordinary sporting event is the drama which always seems to take place on the final holes. Sunday's finish was more sentimental than nail biting as it so often is. Yet, you remain mindful that a potential double bogey accompanies every finishing hole.
When Bubba Watson pounded his drive on the final hole through the fairway encroaching trees without difficulty (Jack Nicklaus says that tight chute facing golfers today is like hitting it through a bowling alley), the suspense was gone. Bubba could make six and win the tournament. The Masters champion doesn't often have that advantage. In the last 14 tournaments there have been five playoffs. In 2004, Phil Mickelson won by making birdie on the last hole to defeat Ernie Ells who was on the putting green practicing for a playoff.
A birdie-bogey swing in four other Masters tournaments during this time, would have brought about four more playoffs. Right, Yogi, "It's never over till it's over." Bubba's big pink driver was accurate, his irons crisp and efficient. A putter gone wrong in the third round, found recovery on Sunday. Together all this meant a 2nd Green Jacket for the former Georgia golfer who is blessed with talent, in the prime of his career. It he is going to win multiple majors, the time in now.
Nowhere does power reward a boomer like Bubba than the Augusta National Golf Club. Winning at Augusta, based on conversations with past winners over the years, brings about such emotional fulfillment. Jack Nicklaus, long after the time when he dominated the tournament, will talk about the special feeling when he now drives down Magnolia Lane.
To win a major championship in that setting ranks with the best emotional feeling a player could have. The Augusta National is a place where people will go to extraordinary lengths to locate a ticket. A week's vacation in the Caribbean or in the Scottish Highlands for four badges and a place to sleep. Even a practice round ticket has become like gold with the committed golf fan.
If you have had access at the Masters, even a half century, as many have, the venue never is boring. The Augusta National is like a museum which has such art genius that you return again and again. A walk down to Amen's Corner will be as refreshing the next time as it was the last time; or the first time. No other sporting event causes more comment about the environs and the landscape. And for good reason. No other event is played in an outdoor setting like the Augusta National. The Kentucky Derby perhaps,with its landscaping and accent on flowers and dress and Pebble Beach. Nothing, however, will lever compete with the Masters when it comes to floral beauty, class and kempt conditions. "I tell all my friends who are going to the Masters for the first time," says ESPN's Mike Tirico, "You are not going to believe it. In all my years at Augusta, I have never seen one cigarette butt anywhere."
It is difficult to remember the Masters ever being prettier than last week. The emerald green of the close-cut fairways with the bunkers filled with pristine sand and the azaleas and dogwoods at peak. When you enjoy that setting all you need is for the competitors to rise to the occasion. It does more often than not, Bubba's 2nd conquest offering confirmation that it was an exciting conclusion if not dramatic.
Earlier in the week, we enjoyed Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player beginning the tournament with ceremonial tee shots. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson has replaced them, but there is a new gang right behind those two seasoned veterans, players like Bubba and players like his Sunday partner, Jordon Spieth, who is likely to win a Green Jacket someday.
Every era has a handful of stars who dominate the sport. Sarazen and Hagan; Hogan, Nelson and Snead; then Palmer, Nicklaus and Player; Trevino and Watson, followed by Woods and Mickelson. There were other successful golfers along with those forenamed, but there seems to be more players today with a chance to win majors than ever before. Bubba's got the game to win a half dozen Masters and maybe other majors, too. So keep the victory crying towel handy.