AUGUSTA, Ga. – Nobody listened. I had been sounding the alarm for weeks, but it wasn’t enough to stop this tsunami of Bad Karma. You might as well try to hold back the North Sea with a swizzle stick.
This week figured to be the greatest Masters of all, some media experts predicted, because so many of the top golfers were playing their best golf at the same time. Plus, there was a Phil Mickelson resurrection, an occurrence as stunning as a new sighting of Sasquatch other than in a jerky commercial, and the evolving riches-to-riches comeback tale of Tiger Woods.
The more CBS tried to sell us on how glorious this Masters was sure to be, I told colleagues, the more likely it was that the green jacket would be donned by the likes of Charley Hoffman. I singled out Hoffman because he’s a modern-day Larry Nelson, a skilled golfer who hasn’t won the big one – yet – and when he does, his perceived lack of pizzazz means that he will be largely dismissed as little more than a one-hit wonder, as Nelson was three times. A great Masters for TV requires a great winner – that is, a marquee name.
When it comes to bad karma, great expectations trump even the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Under-promise and over-deliver is always a better plan.
There are still 54 holes to play. This Masters may in fact deliver a celebrity winner. Jordan Spieth lit up his first round despite a late-in-the-day tee time at Augusta National, shooting 6-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead (scores). Also near the top of the leaderboard were names such as Matt Kuchar (68), Rory McIlroy (69), Patrick Reed (69) and Henrik Stenson (69). So, Big Media still has a chance to get what it wants: a champion with drawing power.
Thursday, though, a lot of karmic punches landed on a lot of other chins. Two blows stood out.
Sergio Garcia, the defending Masters champion and new father of a beautiful and beautifully named daughter, Azalea, hit five balls into a pond and made a 13 at the par-5 15th hole.
Matt Parziale, a firefighter in the real world who qualified for his first Masters by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur, had a demoralizing day despite being the tournament’s real Cinderella fella.
Parziale and Garcia shot 81s.
Garcia is no stranger to bad karma, at least in his opinion. That dark curtain seemed to have lifted after his memorable Masters victory last year. He beat Justin Rose in a playoff, and he holed a short-ish putt – a career bugaboo – to do it. Thursday, the curtain practically fell on his head. Once again, Garcia implied that outside forces were at work.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” a solemn Garcia said after his round. “It’s the first time in my career where I made a 13 without missing a shot. Simple as that. Unfortunately, the ball just didn’t want to stop.”
When Garcia was asked to explain what happened at the 15th, it would’ve been a good time to throw in a bit of humor (as he sometimes does) and shrug off his misfortune. He could’ve joked, “It’s a good thing I one-putted the 15th. Otherwise, that hole could’ve turned into a real disaster.”
He would have owned that 13 then, the way Roy McAvoy owned that last-hole 12 in the imaginary U.S. Open of “Tin Cup” moviedom.
Garcia doesn’t have a joke writer, and besides, he was in no mood for humor, gallows or otherwise.
He explained what happened at the 15th hole. For his original second shot, he had 206 yards to the green and hit a 6-iron at the flag, which was positioned on the green’s treacherous middle-right portion.
“If it carries 2 more feet, it’s probably good,” Garcia said. “And if it carries a foot less, it probably stays on the fringe. Unfortunately, I flew it to the perfect spot for it to spin back. Then I kept hitting good shots with the sand wedge, and I don’t know why; the ball just wouldn’t stop.”
Garcia took a penalty drop after the first ball splashed down, leaving himself in wedge range. The fans around the 15th green applauded each of his subsequent attempts at first – but each spun back, caught the slope and trickled down the maliciously shaved bank and into the pond. Four wedge shots, four balls into the water.
Was it bad luck, a bad pin placement or something else? “You saw it. I don’t think I need to describe it,” Garcia said. “Obviously, I shot 81, which is not great.”
The 13 set a Masters record for the highest score at the 15th, breaking the mark of 11, held by three players: Jumbo Ozaki (1987), Ben Crenshaw (1997) and Ignacio Garrido (1998). Billy Casper once made a 14 there in his later years en route to a score of 105, but he withdrew without signing his scorecard, so that score was never officially recorded.
Doc Redman, the U.S. Amateur champion, earned the traditional pairing with the defending Masters champion and largely was enjoying the afternoon until karmic forces felled Garcia at the 15th.
“It was tough,” said Redman, a Clemson sophomore from Raleigh, N.C. “You wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
Redman had hit an approach shot similar to Garcia’s, but his shot stopped just short of rolling back into the water.
“That pin was really difficult today,” Redman said. “I was thankful mine hung up and I was able to make par.”
Parziale is the real feel-good story of this tournament. He’s 30, is a firefighter just like his father, Vic, was, and he somehow finds enough time to work on his game between shifts at the fire station in Brockton, Mass. He enjoyed a Monday practice round with McIlroy and played nine holes Wednesday with his golfing hero, Woods.
The dream week turned a little too real Thursday. He rallied from two early mistakes with birdies at the fourth and fifth holes but then made a double bogey at the seventh after a bad drive, mis-clubbed a few times, hit a few shots into the water and even hit a drive that finished in a divot – who even knew that Augusta National had those?
“I feel like I didn’t play that bad,” Parziale said. “I’m not that disappointed in the way I played, just disappointed in the score. It’s so great to play here, but I’m a little frustrated. I wish I could have played better.”
It’ll be a great week for him, no matter what. As for the Masters itself? There’s a lot of golf – and karma – left to play.