Keeping Score

Broken dreams mar Masters also-rans

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Here are the biggest disappointments of Masters week, not counting the fantasy pool you were in when you had Tony Finau and dropped him at the eleventh hour because he rolled his ankle after that par-3 hole-in-one celebration accident. (Finau tied for 10th.)

Phil Mickelson: Consistency has eluded Mickelson for more than a quarter-century, and despite his experience and course knowledge at Augusta National, it slipped through his hands again like warm Jell-O. He looked like the Mickelson of old earlier this year when he had three top-6 finishes in February and won a World Golf Championships title in Mexico. At the Masters, he looked more like an old Mickelson.

Six birdies and four bogeys in the opening round left him in good shape, and he was still 2 under par through eight holes of Friday’s round. Then it all caved at the ninth hole when a recovery shot from the trees caromed off a pine and into an unplayable lie in the bushes. It turned into a triple bogey. He dunked one in Rae’s Creek at the 12th and made a double en route to a 79, matching his worst Masters round, and began the third round with a triple bogey at No. 1. A closing 67 lifted him to T-36 but provided no consolation.

“I don’t know what happened,” said a perplexed Mickelson, 47. “A rough couple of days.”

 

Verdict: The record for the oldest Masters winner, held by 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus in 1986, is safer than we thought.

Rory McIlroy: Redemption was close at hand for McIlroy, it seemed, especially after a rollicking, fist-pumping, course-stomping 65 in the third round that earned him a spot inSunday’s final pairing with leader Patrick Reed.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” McIlroy said, referring to his 2011 Masters meltdown when he had the lead, looked as if he would lap the field and then shot an infamous 80. 

He’s still waiting. McIlroy does not excel on fast, firm, wildly undulating greens. The putter is the least effective club in his bag, and despite a recent upgrade after working with putting great Brad Faxon, McIlroy once again was defeated by the National’s greens.  He missed a handful of putts inside 6 feet in the crucible of the final round. He made five bogeys in the final round, including one at the par-5 eighth, and shot 74 instead of challenging Reed on the back nine. It was a huge letdown and a big step back for the world’s former No. 1 player, who was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam. A puzzled McIlroy had no answers other than to say, “I didn’t quite have it.” 
 

Verdict: Does opportunity knock more than twice? Well, it’s only three months until the Open at Carnoustie, laddie.

Tiger Woods: The comeback tour took a wrong turn for Woods, and it detoured right away in the opening round. He failed to birdie any par-5 holes for only the fifth time in his career. He also mis-hit an approach shot to the 12th green that came up short and rolled back into Rae’s Creek. He made a remarkable bogey save and salvaged 73 with birdies on two of the last five holes. So, it could’ve been worse.

Friday, it was worse. All you needed to see was his perfect drive on No. 1, followed by a poor wedge shot from 93 yards that rolled off the green and led to bogey. You can’t miss the green from 93 yards. Woods found Rae’s Creek again at 12, made another remarkable bogey save and posted a 75 to barely made the cut. 

Poor iron play cost him dearly and denied him makeable birdie chances, which was surprising because his iron play had gotten him into contention at Innisbrook and Bay Hill and made a convincing case that he could be relevant at Augusta again. He shot a morale-boosting 69 in the final round, but the week was one step forward, two steps back.

 

Verdict: You say you need more reps, Tiger? We believe you.

Sergio Garcia: There were 13 reasons why the defending champion missed the cut and shot an opening 81. They all happened at the par-5 15th hole, where Garcia rinsed five balls in the water in the opening round. We never did learn how many golf balls he had left in his bag to finish the round. He might have cut it close, because many tour players commonly pack only two sleeves. It wasn’t all Garcia’s fault. He said he hit good shots. They hit the green, then spun back down the shaved bank and into the pond. Garcia said it was the first time he’d ever made a 13 and hit nothing but good shots. It was a hole from which he couldn’t recover.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Garcia, who made history but not the kind that he had hoped to make. His score replaced 11 as the highest recorded on the 13th hole in the Masters. 

 

Verdict: At least Garcia one-putted for 13. Otherwise, it could’ve really been a disaster. It happens.

 

Shubhankar Sharma: The Masters is all about global marketing, so when the little-known Sharma, 21, had a good showing at the WGC event in Mexico, Augusta National offered him a special invitation because he hadn’t qualified to play in the Masters. Sharma, only the fourth Indian to play in the Masters, brought international attention and a crew of Indian media who asked a lot of other players in the field what they thought about Sharma.

Augusta National is a tough course for rookies. Sharma shot 77-74 and missed the cut by two. He had no disasters, no double bogeys, but only four birdies against 11 bogeys. His big problem was the par-3 holes, which he played in 5 over.

Verdict: Baby steps complete. On to Phase Two.

 

Augusta National: Really, who thinks shaving the banks between the greens and the ponds at the 12th and 15th holes was a great idea? Sergio Garcia was right to be miffed about his shots onto the 15th green that spun back and then ended up in the water. Marc Leishman chipped from behind the 15th green and watched his ball race down the slope and into the water. Two years ago at 15, Billy Horschel was getting ready to putt when a gust of wind moved his ball, which then rolled back into the pond. Is this a major championship or carnival golf? Is this what the National has to do to defend par and keep players from shooting 22 under?

Watch some old Masters footage – and it doesn’t even have to be that old – and you’ll see that the shaved banks are a modern design tactic. The course used to have a deeper cut of grass around the edges and, going way back, around a lot of bunkers and greens.

Verdict: The shaved-bank penalty doesn’t fit the crime, but the wrecks make good TV. The Masters has turned into a TV show first and a golf tournament second. 

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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