Savor the Masters flavor, Hideki Matsuyama; others remember Augusta National more painfully
The final round of the 85th Masters unfolded in the same manner as most of the 84 preceding it, marked by neither charge nor collapse (...)
The final round of the 85th Masters unfolded in the same manner as most of the 84 preceding it, marked by neither charge nor collapse that would further burnish the lore of Augusta National, but instead just a humdrum march into history.
What was surely a tremendous relief for Hideki Matsuyama and the expectant nation whose weight he carries, also served to highlight the absence of the other, less noble narrative we’ve come to relish at the Masters: the agony that invariably shadows someone else’s ecstasy.
As the only major championship venue visited annually, Augusta National occupies an intimate space in the minds of fans and competitors. The aphorism that familiarity breeds contempt holds true in families and friendships, but not at Augusta National, where the prevailing sentiment is anticipation or fear, depending upon whether one is viewing or competing.
For no matter how serenely a man may be sailing through the final round, he— and everyone watching — knows exactly where icebergs lurk ahead, and that no deviation is possible.
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With each triumph authored on the second Sunday in April (or, in Dustin Johnson’s case, the third one in November) there are attendant disasters, many better known to aficionados than the limbs of their family tree. The Masters shines an adoring light on its winners, but no tournament casts a more coruscating and enduring glare on its losers.
“It’s just a different feel,” Rory McIlroy said. “That’s the difference between closing out another major championship and closing out a Masters.”
McIlroy can attest, having closed out four of the former but melted to a back-nine 43 when called upon to do the latter.
No one really got close enough to Matsuyama on Sunday to qualify as either challenger or choker, but the ranks of Augusta’s nearly men can wait another year to expand. No player is eager to be the next conscript, though they’d join a legendary cohort.
A few years ago, I chatted outside the National’s clubhouse with Curtis Strange. Back in ’85, he had opened with 80 but held a three-stroke lead walking off the 12th green in the final round. He rinsed balls at 13 and 15, finishing T-2. More than 30 years had passed, but when I asked how long it had taken for that hurt to fade, he replied: “You mean it does?”
In 2018, I sat watching the third round with David Duval, whose mind wandered to the four straight years (’98-’01) when he had a chance to win a Masters. Three months after his last tilt at a green jacket, Duval claimed his lone major at the Open Championship. I asked if that win had eased the disappointment of not winning at Augusta National.
He gazed at me as though he had never before been presented with a question so imbecilic. Finally, he shook his head firmly and said, “No.”
There are others: Greg Norman, defined less by his successes in the British Open than by his failures at the Masters; Ernie Els, owner of four majors but not the one he most wanted; Tom Weiskopf, who would be in the hall of fame had he won at Augusta National, but instead, he was second four times so he’s not. Johnny Miller, runner-up three times. So too Tom Kite. No one played Augusta National better for longer without winning than Kite, whose longevity is cemented by the fact that he was the runner-up in both Jack’s last win and Tiger’s first.
One of the most memorable mini-tragedies wasn’t even wrought by clubs but rather by a pencil. See: De Vicenzo, Roberto.
Even those welcome at the Champions Dinner weren’t immune. Twenty years ago, I asked a handful of legends to identify a single shot from their career they‘d most like to have over. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player combined for seven Masters wins, but both remained haunted by wayward shots to the final green—in ’61 and ’62, respectively—that handed victory to the other. Seve Ballesteros said he couldn’t let go of a ghastly hooked 4-iron into the water on No. 15 when he was leading in ’86.
But this was a Masters to be remembered for Matsuyama’s imperious stability on Sunday and the seismic impact his win will have in Asia, not for the implosion of someone else.
There were still plenty of disappointed contenders pointing courtesy cars to the crummy end of Magnolia Lane, but at least none carried with them the corrosive aftertaste of a final-round fiasco. Only 361 days until we see if the next cast in golf’s most thrilling drama will be as fortunate.