NOW ON CENTER STAGE AT THE MASTERS…..
No Tiger. No Phil for the weekend rounds. For some that may have been reason enough to tune out of the final two rounds of the first major of the golf season, the Masters. For true golf fans, who understood the nuances of the compelling story lines on the Augusta National course on Sunday afternoon, the rewards for staying with it were many.
Tiger hasn’t won a major in six years. Phil spent the first two rounds showing the inconsistency of age, a triple bogey and a double bogey in the opening round pretty much sealing his fate. Youth had a chance to make it’s move, not only on the Masters, but on the era of Tiger and Phil, and they may have found their own standard bearer. 20 year old Jordan Spieth went to the final round tied with Bubba Watson for the lead at five under par and by the time they got to the eighth hole Spieth, bidding to become the youngest Masters champ ever, had a two stroke lead. The 35 year old Watson, who never took a golf lesson and claimed his first PGA Tour title at the 2010 Travelers Championship, put his patience and experience to work with back to back birdies at eight and nine while Spieth bogeyed both and Watson, two years removed from his first Masters championship, took a two stroke lead to the back nine.
Spieth took his heart off his sleeve and put it back where it belongs on 10, with a critical par putt while Watson bogeyed the hole to cut the lead to one stroke. But Spieth bogeyed 12 and Watson birdied 13 and the final margin was in place. Spieth’s misteps were few and small but in the high pressure world of professional golf one mistep costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, particularly at the top of the leader board.
Perhaps the most cerebral moment on the back nine, one that will serve Spieth well if he took note, came on the par five 15th hole. Both players found pine straw among the trees off the tee. Speith needed a cut shot to avoid overhanging branches and curl his ball toward the green. He came off the straw well, but never got the draw he needed, leaving his ball well right, with a long, slippery fast approach to the pin. Had spieth found the green Watson would have likely played it safe and laid up. Instead he went for the green and rolled his shot over. Both players took pars. With little to lose and a chance to pretty much ice it if they played the hole even, the strategy by Watson made for a compelling moment, and it demonstrated the difference between someone who’s been there before and a first timer.
Two first timers, Spieth and Jonas Blixt finished tied for second, holding their own against the venerable old course and the veteran Watson. With Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy and Kevin Stadler all finishing in the top ten, golf’s generation next may be in place and they all showed proper respect for Watson and the way he brought it home where, as they say, the Masters really begins, on the back nine on Sunday.
Spieth was 10 years old when Tiger last won a Masters, 14 when he last won a major. In Watson generation next may have found it’s leader, and their respect is focused more in his direction now than toward “Generation Last”. Tiger and Phil may not have been there, but the next generation in golf may have made it’s entrance on center stage. If you didn’t feel there was anything worth watching, you missed it.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.