Augusta, Ga. – What the 77th Masters reaffirmed is that golf provides the most captivating sprawl in all of sport.
Golf, and particularly the Masters, spans hundreds of gorgeous acres.
Golf, and particularly the Masters, seems to span generations, as last week a preteen made the cut, two 50-somethings occasionally contended and a grandfather almost won the thing in extra holes.
Golf, and finally the Masters, is capable of spanning demographics, as this year the first female members in the exclusive history of Augusta National Golf Club were on the grounds to welcome a 14-year-old from China who might prompt a new wave of contenders from the Far East.
Golf and the Masters always have spanned continents, with this year’s playoff being contested between an Australian and an Argentine amid the Georgia pines.
The 77th Masters in quick succession displayed all of the game’s faults, and the essence of the game’s glory.
The events of Friday and Saturday painted golf, again, as a persnickety and exclusive club run by rich white men working at a golf club with a history of racism and sexism.
Friday, during a day filled with slow play, tournament officials penalized only the 14-year-old, Guan Tianlang, who displayed as much grace in accepting the penalty as he did surviving four rounds of a major championship.
Saturday, tournament officials turned the best tourney in golf and the best player in the game into bumbling accomplices in an episode that painted the rules of the game as obtuse and fickle. Tiger Woods broke the rules. Masters officials missed the violation, were tipped off only by television viewers and Woods’ own comments, decided not to speak with him before he signed what would become an incorrect scorecard, and never considered disqualifying him because of their own mistakes.
Woods declined to withdraw, creating the possibility that he could win a tainted major in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record.
Golfer after golfer stood by the clubhouse, shaking their heads when asked about the arcane entries in the Rules of Golf.
“I think all of us are not aware of the rules of golf,” Zach Johnson said. “I was told this one, with Tiger, was an exceptional rule. I don’t know. I don’t understand everything.
“I’m not sure I like or agree with the rules of golf, or the association that makes the rules of golf. I mean, why do we sign a scorecard? I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m just asking why we do. We’ve got electronics out there, people keeping score. Everybody knows the score. So why sign?”
After two days that too often felt like city council meetings, Sunday proved cleansing, even transcendent.
Angel Cabrera, a self-taught player who has won two major championships and little else of note, poured himself into the competition, swinging from his heels and yelling after good shot and bad. As the rain poured on the back nine, El Pato — “The Duck” — let the pressure roll off his back.
Adam Scott, one of the “Young Guns” supposed to challenge Tiger years ago, has long been the aesthetic and competitive opposite of Cabrera. Where El Pato carries a large gut and a pack of cigarettes, Scott has modeled clothes, as well as one of the purest swings on tour. But Scott, for all of his talent, had not won a major.
As the leaders worked their way back up the massive hill from Amen Corner to the clubhouse, and umbrellas began to gather around them in the suddenly heavy rain, this odd duo rose to the top of the hand-operated scoreboards on the course.
Scott birdied the 18th and exulted. Cabrera, with one of the greatest shots at the 18th hole in Masters history, answered. They traded shots and congratulations until, on the 10th green and second playoff hole, Cabrera’s birdie putt missed by a centimeter, and Scott poured one into the cup in the twilight.
Four days of captivating sprawl led to a tournament decided by the width of a victory cigar.
Cabrera congratulated Scott and shrugged through interviews, saying, “That is golf, you know?”
Thanks for the reminder, gentlemen.
Jim Souhan can been heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10-noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org