No venue in sports better personifies tradition, perseverance, agony and ecstasy better than Augusta National Golf Club. Augusta National is home to The Masters, golf’s most challenging course and bearer of the games most coveted prize, the elusive green jacket, and with it, a place in golf’s history. It has the ability to turn a young Coast Guard vet into one of the greatest golfers to grace the game (and have a drink named in his honor). It also has the ability to make the games greatest falter and fade, with numerous Par 5 holes built into a marathon four-day event. There is no doubt that the Masters is the gold standard for golf excellence and this years event was dazzling.
A young man from Northern Ireland, who, for three days, sat atop the big board, dominated this year’s event and Rory McIlroy teed off Sunday one round away from winning the Masters. Nevertheless, by the time he sank his final put, he, after being so dominant, had fallen to 14th and Augusta National showed how challenging it is to win a Masters on it’s grass and don the green jacket. During the final round Charl Schwartzel, a South African, made a furious run on the last four holes, collecting four birdies to put him on the podium, draped in green with numerous other golf legends for the first time in his young and promising career.
Augusta National brings out the best in both golfing ability and grounds keeping. The players who make the cut at Augusta are among the best in the world and many find making the cut to be a win in and of itself. Tiger Woods, considered by many when in his prime to have been one of the best the game had ever seen, has won at Augusta four times, still two short of the great Jack Nicklaus, showing that this course in Georgia ain’t no Peach. Adding to the intrigue of the contest is the layout and grooming of Augusta. Often seen as a collection of perfectly manicured paradises, Augusta is laden with sand traps, water hazards and enough tall grass to shoot the raptor scene from Jurassic Park. This attention to detail and the strategic inclusion of man made obstacles makes Augusta the ultimate test for golf’s’ elite and good fun for the viewers.
As with all sports, golf has its share of salty veterans proving they still have it, fallen idols who want another chance and young guns bucking to be accepted into the games illustrious green jack club. This year, the defending champion, Phil “Lefty” Mickelson had a tough fourth round, gathering two double bogeys and a bogey to keep him from repeating. Golf’s’ good boy gone bad, Tiger Woods, played with his hair on fire in the second round, shooting a 66 on the day. Sadly, Woods bogeyed four times on the back nine Sunday to keep him from winning his first masters since 2005. Still, Woods shot a 67 Sunday, earning him a 4th place finish and a bit more respect in the clubhouse and on SportsCenter.
The spark plug of this year’s Masters, Rory McIlroy, out played everyone from day one at Augusta. In his first three days, McIlroy shot 65, 69 and 70, enabling him to go into Sunday in 1st place. Despite playing for par and putting his way into some birdies the first three days, the luck of the (Northern) Irish ran out Sunday and McIlroy shot an 80, sinking him into 15th place. Still, better than last years Masters where he placed 30th.
Augusta National Golf Course is the golden mean in golf and already golf fans are wondering if Lefty will win again at Augusta, if Tiger can tie Nicklaus, or, perhaps, if McIlroy will come back next spring, determined to prove that he has more than just three days of good golf in him and that he deserves to be mentioned within the ranks of Palmer, Player, Nicklaus, Faldo and Woods as a Masters Champion.
All that is for certain is that, on his first PGA Tour, Charl Schwartzel conquered Augusta and claimed golf’s’ Holy Grail for himself.
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