What a rollercoaster. What a day. What a week. Oh, just another non-controversial Masters. I totally jinxed it earlier this week when I thought I was going to get to watch this year’s Masters relatively stress-free from my couch with an easy workload. And of course, Tiger Woods was going to cruise to victory for his 15th major and all would be right in the world.
I should have known better. That doesn’t happen. In fact, it never does, especially when you think it will. Duh.
First, Guan Tianlang received a one-shot penalty for slow play in his second-to-last hole on Friday. Thank goodness he had played well enough to sneak inside the cut line, and he also got some help from Jason Day, who could have knocked Guan out if he had rolled in just one more birdie. International incident and outrage curbed. Everyone was just happy the kid got to play the weekend and notched another entry in the record books.
And then, of course, it appeared Tiger Woods was facing disqualification for an improper drop, but Fred Ridley, the Masters Committee tournament chairman, swooped in to save the day and extend Woods a lifeline and two-shot penalty for having a brain fart and taking his second improper drop in six tournaments in 2013. Just another myth debunked: Tiger knows the rules SO well.
By the way, if it were Dustin Johnson, he would have gotten trashed and called all sort of names. But this is Tiger’s rules faux pas in a major, so it’s cool. Thing I can’t get over is how straightforward the rule is.
Sorry, I need to rant for a minute: It’s absolutely mind-bogging to me Tiger botched this elementary rule that is ingrained in you from the time you start playing in junior golf tournaments. In the AJGA they have a rules meeting at every event and it’s mandatory attendance and you bet that every kid knows the three options to drop a ball from a water hazard and 5 options from a lateral water hazard.
Since Tiger is human, I guess he gets a pass. I know we all make mistakes, but I can’t help but think that this could have been prevented. After all, it’s not like it’s The Masters and a big tournament or anything. Oh, wait.
Here’s what an affable Tiger said after he posted two-under 70, three-under 54-hole total to trail the leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera by four strokes.
As all this was going on this morning there were TV guys on talking about you ought to take yourself out of the tournament, withdraw, disqualify yourself. What do you think of those kind of guys that say that kind of stuff?
TIGER WOODS: I don’t know. Under the rules of golf I can play. I was able to go out there and compete and play. Evidently this is the Harrington rule, I guess. If it was done a year or two ago, whatever, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to play. But the rules have changed, and under the rules of golf I was able to play.
Q. Was your first thought you might be disqualified when you heard about this this morning?
TIGER WOODS: I didn’t know what was going on. Fred explained the whole situation, and just said, come on in and let’s just talk about it, and from there we went through it.
What’s also bizarre is Augusta National doesn’t have walking officials with every group, like at the U.S. Open and Open Championship, while the PGA Championship has them in the last five groups on Sunday. Interesting considering ANGC has (even) more rules (some of which are unspoken and you’re supposed to just miraculously perceive) than anywhere else.
OK, end rant.
We’re looking forward to a dramatic finish that involves no controversy. Maybe. I haven’t decided on that completely, actually. Let me sleep on it. Before I actually get some, here are story lines to watch for on Sunday.
*Brandt Snedeker is seeking redemption at The Masters after he played in the final group on Sunday in 2008 with eventual champion Trevor Immelman. Snedeker shot 77 in the final round and got choked up in the post-round interview. He should feel no shame for showing emotion. I wanted to give him a hug when I saw this:
Five years later, Snedeker is more experienced, confident and equipped to handle the pressure of Sunday at Augusta.
“I had no clue what I was doing in 2008,” he said, after posting a three-under 69 to follow a pair of 70s. “I had no game plan, no idea of when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive, how to play this golf course the way you’re supposed to play it.
“I have a completely clear focus of what I need to do tomorrow, clear set of goals that I need to hit. If I do that, I have a chance to win this golf tournament.”
Snedeker’s road to Augusta has been rockier than I would have expected in February. He finished runner-up to Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in back-to-back weeks at the Waste Management Open and Farmers Insurance Open, respectively, at the start of 2013. Then, the following week, he snagged that elusive victory at the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
He was one of the favorites for Augusta early this year before he was sidelined for five weeks due to a nagging rib injury. Since coming back at Bay Hill, he missed the cut at his last two starts, but he says that was just rust.
“It’s been two seasons, I guess, is the best way to put it,” Snedeker said. “The first part of the season, I was healthy, playing great, nothing was wrong. And then I got hurt and had to start pretty much from scratch again.
“So getting that feeling back, the momentum back, like I did early in the year, I feel like my golf swing is getting back to the way it was. My short game is in really good shape and I’m excited.”
It was clear to anyone who watched Snedeker’s comments after the third round that he was pumped up to take on Augusta National the following day. You can’t fake the confidence and strut in his step. He’s ready to slip on that green jacket.
“I’ve spent 32 years of my life getting ready for tomorrow and it’s all been a learning process, and I am completely, 100 percent sure that I’m ready to handle no matter what happens tomorrow,” he said. “I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t win, period.
“I’m not here to get a good finish. I’m not here to finish top5. I’m here to win and that’s all I’m going to be focused on tomorrow. I realize what I have to do that and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that happens.”
*Two-time major champ Angel Cabrera entered the week ranked no 269 in the world. Yes, he’d fallen quite a bit since he won the 2009 Masters. The Argentinian has a knack for showing up at majors, though. Many players talk about peaking four times a year. Maybe that should ask for Angel’s secret.
He has two majors, but Cabrera has never won a regular PGA Tour event, despite playing in around 20 tournaments per season. While he has five wins on the European Tour, the last was in 2005. It’s something about the majors that brings the best out of Cabrera or perhaps he brings his best to them. Either way, he rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the 18th to snag a share of the 54-hole lead with Snedeker.
“I think it’s important that you know where to miss,” said Cabrera when asked about his success at Augusta. “That’s very important, to know where to miss. And when you’ve played so many times or many years this tournament, it really helps just the fact that you know where you can miss a shot.”
Cabrera, 43, knows what he has to do to slip on his second green jacket on Sunday.
“In 2009, I was nervous, anxious,” said Cabrera. “But now I’m very comfortable. I know what I’ve got to do tomorrow to be able to get the win.”
Well, he certainly could have fooled me in 2009. He looked as cool as a cat and like he was going to have Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry for supper.
*Another redemption story: Adam Scott, who is one shot back. As you recall, just last summer Scott bogeyed the last four holes to let the Open Championship slip away from his fingers. It was a heartbreaker.
“I don’t really think I need to do too much different,” he said after shooting 69 on Saturday.
“Everything I’m doing seems to be getting me there right at the end. If I’m in the same position I was in at the Open last year tomorrow, then I’m obviously playing an incredible round and I’ll just be trying to finish the job.”
The Australian, who finished runner-up two years ago at The Masters to Charl Schwartzel, will have the weight of his country on his shoulders in the final round. (I mean, I’m worried about some of my journo friends who may sob in the media center and get escorted off the grounds or something if an Aussie doesn’t win tomorrow. And I’m only somewhat joking.)
“Obviously, to win the Masters would be incredible,” Scott said. “It would be great for Australia. We’ve never looked better odds-wise going into a Sunday, except that one year in 1996. It’s going to be a hell of a round tomorrow.”
Scott paused and winced a little when he brought up the ’96 Masters, when Norman lost a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo, who eventually won by an astonishing five strokes.
I cringed, too. I was only 13, but that was the first Masters I vividly remember watching and I still recall how badly I felt for Norman. I was cheering for him because I’ve always rooted for the underdog and for some reason, my 13-year-old self didn’t like the arrogance Faldo exuded.
“Aussies are proud sporting people, and we’d love to put another notch in our belt,” said Scott.” … this is one thing that one of us would like to do tomorrow for sure.”
*THE AUSSIES: Australian golf fans are besides themselves that there are THREE players from the Down Under near the top of the leaderboard heading into Sunday’s final round at The Masters. Scott, of course, is in solo third, and Marc Leishman and Jason Day are tied for fourth. This is the best shot that Australians have to notch their first Masters victory. They have waited, patiently, and experienced many, many heartbreaks. So, why not?
“Obviously I fell short two years ago but I have a good opportunity to get out there and win my first major and my first green jacket,” Day said after booking a date with American Matt Kuchar in the third-last pairing tomorrow.
“And to be the first Australian to win it, although it would be great if ‘Scotty’ (Adam Scott) or ‘Leish’ (Marc Leishman) could do it if I couldn’t.
Day tied for runner-up honors two years ago at The Masters. He was disappointed by closing the third round with two three-putt bogeys, but perhaps playing in the second-to-last group will serve Day well, taking some of the pressure off him (or not adding more).
He wowed crowds and said, “Hello, Augusta,” in 2011, with his gutsy Sunday run. Can he do it again and seal the deal this time? Well, he has at least a bit of experience to lean on.
“It does start on the back nine Sunday, but you have to get through the front nine,” said Day.
“You have to pick your battles. Weigh the risk versus reward and that’s what champions do — they pull the shot off at the right time. I’m very excited with the opportunity.”
Leishman has quietly played splendid golf this week at Augusta National and consistently stayed at the top of near the top of the leaderboard for all three rounds, which isn’t an easy feat. Then again, Leish has nothing to lose.
“I think I won seven or eight times as a pro now,” he said. “Slept on the lead maybe four, close to the lead a few. So I’ve sort of done it before. Obviously it’s different in the Masters, but I feel pretty comfortable at it, to be honest.”
He is a chill guy (and one of the nicest and most genuine, I might add).
Leishman pointed out that he’s learned something every round he’s played at Augusta National — and we know experience is crucial here.
“I learned a lot again today,” said the 29-year-old Australian. “So I hit the ball well, I just got to hole the putts tomorrow. I missed a few really makable putts and if they go in then I’m 8‑ or 9‑under. But I also holed a couple of good par putts as well, so I’m well and truly in it. I need a low one tomorrow, no knows. Maybe we’ll take that Aussie curse off.”
Which will it be? Or if you don’t think any of the Australians will pull it off, who do you think will be wearing green on Sunday evening?
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)