Early April is my favorite time of year. The first major of the year happens and spring is in the air. My most favorite memories of the Masters is what makes this time of year so great. My first visit to the hallowed grounds was in 1986, and then two weeks after that Masters I had the honor of playing golf with Masters Champion, Jack Nicklaus. I loved the Masters before that but even more now.
Fast forward to this year and what a great major championship this was. There were so many story lines to this year’s Masters that I can’t cover them in this column.
First it was Tiger Woods’ return after a two month, self imposed layoff to find his swing, short game and get right mentally. There was Phil Mickelson, who has become a household name at Augusta. There was Rory McIlroy going for his career Grand Slam. There was Jordan Speith, the hottest player on the PGA Tour. There was Gentle Ben Crenshaw making his final Masters appearance.
Tiger committed the week before. He had set the Masters for his ultimate return to golf and said if his game was ready he would play. There were many naysayers in the golf world that said Tiger has the yips and he won’t be able to shake them. They also said this was not the place to come back and try to find out if the yips were gone. Now I’m not saying I know more than the so called “experts” but I declared from day one that Tiger did not have the yips. Results, well Tiger did not win but finished T-17; not bad for a guy that had not teed it up in over two months.
Phil Mickelson has self proclaimed that the Masters is what he gets fired up for each year. He did not let us down. If there is any professional golfer on this earth that has a better short game, we have not met him or her, yet. Phil did not disappoint us. Late on Sunday, the roars were out there. Phil was responsible for many of them. Were you one that thought “just maybe”? I was. It has been said many times that the Masters begins on the back nine. It was game on for Phil. Phil just came up short in a T-2; but what a short game clinic he put on down the stretch.
The pre-tournamnet favorite, Rory McIlroy, going for the career Grand Slam made a gallant effort and for a while he looked like he could pull off the near impossible, and hold onto 3 major trophies at the same time. I think there was too much self-imposed pressure on Rory to accomplish this major undertaking. In the end, this was fact. Rory finished in fourth place alone.
What can you say about Gentle Ben Crenshaw. He is definitely a Pro’s Pro. He is a consummate gentleman. He is ever respectful of the game, his fellow competitors, and of Augusta National. While his performance will not be memorable, his absence from this event will be missed. Will he become the fourth to hit ceremonial first tee shots with Jack, Arnie and Gary? Only time will tell.
The biggest story of the week was that the tournament was practically over on Thursday, when the heir apparent, Dallas, Texas youngster, Jordan Speith took center stage. After the bitter pill of losing the 2014 Masters, Jordan came back and took what he missed the year before. With his opening round 64, he signaled the rest of the field that he was not going to let this one get away this year. It was like destiny. The ghost of Clifford Roberts was shining on him. He had several good bounces and breaks in the first couple of days and he kept it up through the weekend. While it may have seemed anti-climatic, there was still plenty of excitement on Sunday. No lead is safe at Augusta. This is especially evidenced by Greg Norman’s falter when he blew his large lead to allow Nick Faldo to win in 1996. I was sitting on the edge of my seat knowing that with one swing the tournament could take a change for the worst for the leader. Jordan was not going to allow this to happen. With Phil and Justin Rose breathing down his neck, Jordan remained focused on the mission he set out to accomplish. He had a couple of stumbles on Saturday but would not be deterred. Then came Sunday, a four shot lead, would it hold up? It did. Jordan Speith shot 64-66-70-70 for a record tying 18 under par and win by the same four shots that he lead by at the beginning of the day. Jordan was the first play to ever get to 19 under par, but just could not hold on to the record alone. What a finish!
You could not have had a more classy champion than Jordan Speith and he will remain as humble as he appears as the new Masters Champion. Have you ever seen anyone as genuine as Jordan Speith who not only hugged everybody, so to speak, after the final round but then went back out onto the 18th green to applaud the patrons for being so great. This was a first. He got it right and the Masters got it right again.
I could go on and on about the tears that filled the eyes of the patrons when Ben Crenshaw bid farewell along with his longtime caddy, Carl Jackson, or how Justin Rose showed he too is a fine gentleman with the way he followed behind Jordan up the 18th hole on Sunday so Jordan could receive the deserved accolades. Then to top it off at the end, Justin waited for Jordan to have a special moment with his caddy, a former math teacher, before congratulating him on his victory. Again, classy! That is what makes this the greatest week in golf.
Be sure to tune in to the Bunker to Bunker Golf Show every Saturday morning from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. on ArizonaSports 98.7 or on the internet at www.arizonasports.com for more tips and updates on all of the week’s golfing news in the Valley and around the world. Join Greg, Jim Hill, and Marty Monaghan for a comprehensive look at the golf world for the week.