he 2011 edition of the Masters was the most exciting in recent memory. There are, of course, some more memorable victories—as CBS reminded us constantly, this was the 25th anniversary of the most memorable victory ever—but I can’t think of one when so many were so close on the back nine. At one point, there were nine players with legitimate chances to win.
Congratulations are in order for Charl Schwartzel. On this Sunday, he was the best of a very good lot. Avoiding the opening jitters, he set the tone by chipping in for a bird on one, and holing out for an Eagle on three. He had just one bogey on the day—at the par 3 fourth—and finished in fine style with four straight birds. That’s a stellar performance under enormous pressure. Schwartzel had to know that Adam Scott was setting the pace just one hole ahead. He showed no sign of nervousness over the last four holes at all.
A quick analysis suggests that Schwartzel won on the strength of his putting. He was second in the field with a putting average of 1.49; he three putted only twice. He hit just under 70% of fairways and greens. But he averaged “just” 278 yards off the tee—placing him 44th in the field. That’s an old fashioned recipe for winning: hit fairways and greens and make putts. August is supposed to be the realm of the big hitter, but we’ve seen some shorter guys win in recent years: Mike Weir, Zach Johnson and now Schwartzel.
The victory must be doubly meaningful for Schwartzel and for South Africa, as it marks the 50th anniversary of Gary Player’s first Masters win. That also was the first Masters’ win by an international player.
As for Mr. Woods, don’t believe the hype. This year’s Masters does not prove that the old Tiger is back. Instead, what we have is the New Tiger—as good as the world’s best players, but no better. Old Tiger would have won that tournament by two strokes. New Tiger gives away strokes at inopportune times. New Tiger is going to have a much harder time winning majors with all the new competition out there. That, however, is much better for the PGA Tour. Competition builds interest.
New Tiger swears just as much as Old Tiger, though.
I really feel sorry for Rory McIlroy. I think we all have been in the position he was in—not at a Major, of course, or even in a tournament—but in the position of having a round unexpectedly come apart. It’s a helpless feeling. You can’t get it going, and you can’t get it back. Each shot is more frustrating than the last. I’ve played the occasional round where I was reduced to pitching and chipping because none of my other clubs would work. Rory lost out on tens of thousands of dollars, but when it happens to me, it’s four hours and thirty bucks wasted. On my teacher’s salary, that’s a similar stake.
The after round interview was just cruel, but Rory handled it with great maturity. He’ll be back.
Adam Scott looked very good, too. He was one of those guys ten years ago who was supposed to challenge Tiger for dominance—along with fellow Aussie Aaron Baddeley, Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson, Chad Campbell and others whose names I have a hard time remembering. But he didn’t pan out. Now, after ten years of seasoning, I think it’s just possible that he can live up to part of that promise. He certainly had it together with that long putter. I expect a run on those things at the local pro shops.
Scott, however, was just one of a trio of heroic Australian golfers. Geoff Ogilvy, already a Major winner, made a great effort get into a position to win. And Jason Day nearly pulled off his first Major victory. It just didn’t work out. But with the apparent resurgence of fellow countryman Aaron Baddeley, I think you can look for some more thunder from Down Under over the course of this season.
In spite of great hopes, Phil didn’t make a showing. I wonder if three straight weeks of playing was too much for his arthritis. He may have to gear back his enthusiasm a bit and go on a somewhat reduced schedule. If I were his advisor, I’d suggest a much more careful schedule leading up to the US Open.
Fifty one year old Fred Couples can’t be too disappointed with his own performance. His swing is still a wonder to behold, and if his back had held up over the years, he would be a sure fire Hall of Famer. As it is, I think he’s on the cusp. One Major and fifteen Tour victories does it for me, but I’m not sure about the voters.
I did pretty well on my fantasy team picks:
Charl Schwartzel – 1
Tiger – T4
Steve Stricker – T11
Rory McIlroy – T15
Fred Couples – T15
YE Yang – T20
Phil Mickelson T27
Bubba Watson – T38
Martin Kaymer – MC
Tom Watson – MC
Now its waiting in anticipation of Father’s Day and the US Open.