April 14, 2014

SHATZMAN | Chasing the Green Jacket

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As night turned to morning prior to Sunday’s fourth and final round at Augusta National Golf Club, the 2014 Masters appeared to be headed towards an ultra-dramatic finish — the type that has made the tournament the face of the sport around the globe. The storylines were, in typical Masters fashion, manifold. Tiger Woods, recovering from back surgery, would be spectating the major for the first time since 1994. By the time play concluded on Saturday afternoon, Woods was on the verge of losing claim to one of his many golf achievements: youngest Masters champion. Woods seized hold of his first Green Jacket in 1997, when he finished an astonishing twelve shots of ahead of second place. He did so at the ripe age of 21. Thus, even in a Woods-less Masters’ field, Tiger managed to be at the center of attention Sunday morning.

Sitting atop the leaderboard heading into Sunday was an intriguing pair: 2012 Masters’ champ, 35-year-old Bubba Watson, and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who secured his spot in the tournament field after winning his first PGA Tour event last July. Several players who made the cut following Friday’s second round had played in more Masters than Jordan Spieth had lived years, like Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer, each of whom had been teeing up at Augusta more than a decade before Spieth had trekked into the ole’ womb.

But Spieth had proven himself to be unfazed by the “big moments.” He won the 2013 John Deere Classic following a three-man playoff, defeating David Hearn and 2007 Masters’ champion Zach Johnson after five extra holes (as well as 100-plus of the best golfers in the world who finished behind the three leaders). The victory, highlighted by three consecutive rounds firing six-under 65, established the 19-year-old as a force to be reckoned with on tour, far removing Spieth from being just another budding young golfer with a bright future. His distinct knack for the game of golf, combined with his veteran-like poise in crunch-time has reminded golf pundits of the young superstars who did it before him — specifically that guy Woods, who did that thing in 1997.

So it came as little surprise to those familiar with Spieth that the only professional in the field who could not legally purchase a Miller Lite sat atop the leaderboard after three rounds at Augusta, chasing the sacred Green Jacket — while, simultaneously ‘Tiger Hunting.’

But as the sun began to set over Augusta, Georgia late-afternoon Sunday, Bubba Watson tapped in for par on the eighteenth green, completing a masterful final round and securing his second Masters’ victory in the last three years. The emotional, deserving Watson embraced his caddy, as well as his playing-partner, Jordan Spieth, who, just seconds before Watson, made his short par putt, leaving the Texas-native three strokes off the lead, in a tie for second place. Tiger Woods’ record remained intact, for that moment, at least. Should Jordan Spieth win the tournament next April, he would lay claim to the title by a handful of months.

The 2014 Masters did not feature the dramatic ending of previous years. Frankly, the final nine holes on Sunday were fairly uneventful: Bubba Watson knew what it felt like to wear the Green Jacket, and he combined his experience with a solid, steady round that left him basically unthreatened when he hit the final stretch. He knew what he had to do to win the tournament, and he executed, becoming the 17th player to win multiple Green Jackets.

The lack of “excitement” — drama is a more proper word — as well as the absence of Tiger Woods led to television viewership being historically low. It makes sense. People want to see the face of the sport in action, and people want to see a 15-footer drop for the win. I certainly do.

This 2014 Masters did not include these thrilling aspects of the game, but these past four days at Augusta had plenty to offer. Fans were introduced to the next star of Tiger Woods proportions, Jordan Spieth, and although he was unable to win his first major, he made a name for himself on the global golf spectrum. Spieth, like today’s top players, will be a favorite to win every PGA tournament he enters for decades to come.

We watched Bubba Watson, a self-taught, all-around good-guy, win his second Masters — this time, though, he was met on the 18th green by his adopted toddler Caleb. Watson and his wife Angie, whom he met in college, adopted their son in 2012. Bubba Watson has endured plenty of hardship over the past few years, and there may be no more deserving professional athlete to win as prestigious an event as any in sports two times. Here’s to many more years of success for Bubba Watson and his family.

As for Jordan Spieth? One can only imagine the heartbreak that comes with coming so close to winning the Masters at age 20, but Spieth figures to be around for another try or two.

But for now, that $792,000 second place prize isn’t too shabby of a consolation for a 20-year-old, either.