The 2018 Masters
Augusta National is the common denominator as the same course in the first major of the year. All of the other majors have rotational venues. Augusta is set up virtually the same way every year–no rough, fast greens, running fairways etc. Augusta often offers a wide variety of weather with warm, dry conditions and cold, damp and rainy ones as well. The player has to adjust as scoring is enhanced when the greens are wet but distances must be adjusted as well. When its warm and dry, the fairways run and the greens are lightning fast. Augusta is a fair test and it just seems every year that the unforced error is the key ingredient that eventually crowns the winner. The course is the only one in the world that boasts and publicizes its 12th hole-The Golden Bell as one of the most difficult par 3’s in the world. It’s only a 150 yard or so hole but it appears after the brutal 10th and 11th holes where pars are at a premium. You can come to the 12th after bogeying 11 or maybe struggled mightily for a par. There is a brilliant story in the Sunday (4/8) Sports Section of the New York Times completely on the troubles that players have had with the 12th hole. On Sunday, Jordan Speith conquered the hole for the first time in years as it had cost him a Masters victory a few years ago. Tiger dunked in the pond a few times on 12 during the tournament and raised his fist in jubilation on Sunday as he landed on the green and made par. The participant that takes advantage of what the course offers usually prevails. The 13th hole used to be a terror and robbed the likes of Fred Couples and Curtis Strange of potential wins with second shots that ended up in the moat that guards the green. With today’s equipment and balls, not many balls find that gorge any more and the hole is routinely an eagle opportunity. The greens are so fast that a CBS Television announcer was banned for life when he labeled the greens as fast as “bikini wax.” The Final Round of the Masters is usually settled on the back nine on Sunday and 2018 would be no exception to this tendency.
This year’s Final Round was billed as a “mano a mano” between Patrick Reed and Rory McElroy. McElroy was three shots back and the memory evoked the famous Ryder Cup match between Reed and McElroy where some spectacular golf was played. This is not match play and both guys would have to focus on Augusta National and not each other. The day started in a strange fashion as Reed hooked his first tee shot into the left rough with a small tree that would impact his follow through on his approach shot. McElroy smashed his tee shot way to the right and it was a small miracle that it didn’t end up out of bounds. Advantage??? (no one). Reed managed to find the left green side bunker. McElroy had a shot that only a player of his considerable skill could attempt. He hit a tremendous shot over all the trees and ended up in the same bunker as Reed. Reed hit an indifferent bunker shot and could only make bogey. McElroy is one of the best bunker players in the world and hit a terrific shot to a few feet and made par. Just like that–McElroy drew to a one shot deficit. Meanwhile Jordan Speith who had teed off two groups ahead of them birdied the first hole and was 3 under after 5 holes. He had started the day 9 shots behind Reed and was merely thinking about enjoying the round and doing the best he can to finish as high as he could. Meanwhile, McElroy’s putter ruined his terrific ball striking day-he missed short putts for eagle and birdies that would have put enormous pressure on Reed. Reed was clearly grinding. He had never won a major and he was clearly fighting his emotions through a thicket of clutch putts for pars and birdies. Rickie Fowler and John Rahm were playing together and stayed in contention only a few shots behind-game on. Reed missed his tee shot on 11 and made a pretty good bogey–McElroy had fallen away as his putter continued to falter. Speith continued to play “lights out” and was now 9 under for the day and tied for the lead after his 15th hole. Reed was still grinding and making pars and could not take advantage of the 13th as he plunked a shot into the green side creek and escaped with a par. It turned out that his last birdie came on the 14th hole holing a very tricky putt, which certainly was a shot gained on the field. His drive on 15 was too short to go for it in two and his approach shot from less than 100 yards found the back collar of the green and he could only make par on a hole he had eagled just one day before. Reed was now 15 under and had a one shot lead on Speith and 2 on Fowler. Rahm’s day ended on 15 when he smashed his iron short of the hole and he was emotionally spent as he watched the ball spin back into the pond. Rahm will wear a green jacket one day. Speith came to the 18th one back and his tee shot caught the last limb of an overhanging tree that guards the chute that you must drive through. He was extremely unhappy as he grinded to make a 4 foot par putt that just missed. His final round 64 was the lowest in Master’s history tied with six others. Fowler had a chance on 17 but his approach shot just fell short and ran off the green. He would make par and then produce a terrific birdie on 18 to get to 14 under and second place. Reed would have to par in and he did after making a tricky 3 footer (similar to the one Speith missed 10 minutes earlier) to win the Green Jacket. Reed hung on to beat back all of this tremendous competition and I’ll bet he’ll be sleeping off the adrenalin for the next few days. Adrenalin was evident with all of these players as they crushed the ball all over Augusta National.
Tiger Woods was the media and Las Vegas pre-tournament favorite but he couldn’t put a consistent round together and he finished at +1. He played well on Sunday and had his first under par round of the tournament shooting 68. He still has work to do to get consistency back into his game. He seems to be ready but I think the Open Championship is probably his next good shot at winning a major tournament.
Another exciting and competitive Masters makes this tournament the best major. The Par 3 contest added a nice exhibition of excitement as Watson Nicklaus and Player overshadowed the new breed-all in good fun. Nicklaus’ grandson grabbed a club and recorded a hole-in-one…Nicklaus said it was his most exciting moment in golf–a bit of hyperbole but that’s the mystique of the Masters.