Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters was a very special event for him personally and the game of golf. The media loves winners and has spent the last ten years criticizing Woods and making light of his struggle to return the top stage in golf. Many commentators wrote Woods off and said he would never win another major tournament. Most golf fans and many participants that play the game have an appreciation for what Woods had already accomplished prior to his injuries and the disruptions in his personal life. Woods had won 14 major tournaments prior to Sunday. Most professionals never win a major and the skill of the golfing pyramid is quite steep for those that are successful in the game. I admire Wood’s patience and persistence in pursuing this goal. This week he did not allow the driver to beat him and his iron play was razor sharp and bailed him out on the few instances where the driver did get him into trouble. His putting was also razor sharp and he was No. 1 in the tournament from over 20 ft. in the event. In addition to all of the good play, I believe the gods of golf had to intervene to facilitate the process. Some evidence:
- A security guard accidently trips Woods after he hits a brilliant shot from the rough and for a moment it looked like Woods had injured an ankle. It turned out that Woods avoided the brunt of the blow and emerged in good shape.
- On Saturday, Woods whacked his tee shot to the left on the 13th hole as he slipped through the ball–fortunately the ball hit a few things and managed to give Woods a decent lie enabling him to knock the ball on the green in two on the par 5 hole. The 13th hole with the Rae’s Creek used to be a pivotal hole in the Masters and felled many a tournament leader. In recent years, the power game of the new breed of players has rendered the 13th as a birdie hole for these professionals as they are able to carry the creek and reach the putting surface in 2 shots.
- On Sunday, “Golden Bell”–the par 3, 12th hole completely fooled the competition as the players could not feel the freshening breeze that would befall the hopes of his nearest competitors.
Golden Bell-the 12th Hole at Augusta National
This hole has been the curse of many a Master leader coming down the stretch in the final round of the tournament. The hole measures only 158 yards over the pond with bunkers strategically placed front and back to guard the green which slopes toward the pond. The Sunday pin is always in the center right of the hole which tempts any player to attack it. Club selection is absolutely paramount. The player has to decide to make the tough selection and predict, sometimes without any information, what the wind is doing. The wind can swirl in many directions and confuse or lull the player into hitting a shot that will produce disaster. This hole cost Jordan Speith the 2016 Masters as he was in complete control of the tournament only to hit two shots into the water on Number 12 and made an inexplicable 7 on the hole after taking 8 shots the previous three rounds. Golden Bell was fairly benign the first three days of the tournament and then reared its ugly head on Sunday. It started with Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter knocking it into the water with 9 irons going after the pin. After that occurrence, you would think that those that followed would recognize the situation and play it safe. The leader, Francisco Molinari, was 13 under as he stepped to the 12th tee. Woods had made a terrific par from the rough on No. 11 so the stage was set. Molinari chose a nine iron and simply didn’t hit it hard enough as he probably wanted to go for this particularly pin. The shot found the watery grave just about guaranteeing double bogey (it was) and his lead was now gone. Woods stepped to the tee and you could just feel the experience that Tiger has at Augusta. He knows that the wind swirls in many directions and going after this particular flag can be treacherous. Especially after seeing Molinari hitting the ball in the water, Tiger know that par would be a great score here and worst case if he flew the green and made bogey, he would still gain a shot on Molinari with the 2 birdieable par 5’s ahead. Woods took the 9 iron directly over the bunker and help the green with about a 20 ft. putt or so remaining. He made it interesting by leaving his first putt about 4-5 ft. short but drained it to make par. Tony Finau didn’t learn anything from Tiger’s play and knocked his 9 iron into the pond and that was the end of the tournament for him.
A significant key to Tiger’s victory was his focus and patience. He kept his emotions in check and never lost his composure throughout the entire event. Even the usual fist pump was controlled when he holed the final putt. He would have plenty of time to celebrate. It was certainly a different Tiger and one to be reckoned with on the PGA Tour.
Expectations for Tiger will be on the upswing. Trump is giving him the Medal of Freedom for some reason that is mysterious to me–I didn’t realize winning the Masters merited that large a contribution to society. Nevertheless, Tiger’s win is a boon to the game of golf and the media will be all over the idea that he can now catch Jack Nicklaus in career major wins. While all of this is difficult to predict, the competition has taken notice that Tiger is really back and the intimidation factor that was significant earlier in his career, will be more apparent than it has been. Tiger’s win certainly ranks pretty favorably with Nicklaus’ victory at the Masters at age 46.
Its been quite a few weeks of prominence for Augusta National with Tiger’s win on Sunday and the completion of the first ever Women’s Amateur that was completed at Augusta National the preceding week. Jennifer Kupcho came from behind to defeat second place finisher Maria Fassi. Kupcho birdied the 16th hole with a 6 ft. birdie putt and an eagle on 13th overcame Fassi’s lead and led to victory. Kupcho attends Wake Forest University and has a distinguished set of credentials in the collegiate ranks. She also finished 21st in the 2017 US Women’s Open. She shot 67 at Augusta National on Saturday to earn a four stroke victory over Fassi. Fassi is the winner of the ANNIKA award which is given to the player of the year in collegiate golf and named the best player in the SEC conference where she players for the University of Arkansas. The field boosted an international field of amateurs totaling 60 players which was cut to 30 for the final round at Augusta National.
The timing of this event and the graciousness of the Augusta National Golf Club as the host will be a boon to women’s golf for years to come.
Outstanding women’s players–final round became a match play event