Above all things, we have to keep it real here, as the kids might say. It’s Masters Week, and it would be as sacrilege as draining Augusta National of Sunday birdies and eagles to not pay homage to those who made us fans in the first place.
When I was the national golf writer at the dear old San Francisco Chronicle, I had an April tradition. Come Masters Week, I’d bring down from the bookshelf my dog-eared copy of Dan Jenkins’ essay “The Masters Its Ownself” and quote from it.
And now, forthwith, a tradition unlike any other. A reading from Jenkins, king of the Masters press room, to start us off on the right foot this week. Ahem (clearing throat):
“Something mystical happens to every writer who goes to the Masters for the first time, some sort of emotional experience that results in a search party having to be sent out to recover his typewriter from a clump of azaleas. The writer first becomes hypnotized by the “cathedral of pines” down around the tenth fairway normally; then he genuflects at the Sarazen Bridge on the fifteenth, and eventually takes up a position on the Augusta National veranda, there to wait for an aging wisteria vine to crawl up his sleeve and caress his priceless clubhouse badge.”
Welcome to Masters Week, 2009.
The case can be made that this Masters carries with it more potential beauty and epic qualities than any since Sir Tiger himself was gunning for his fourth consecutive major championship back in the spring of 2001. Of course, Phil Mickelson’s breakthrough win in 2004 – and accompanying Jordanesque leap on the 18th green – remains an indelible moment, but still, 2009 offers a potential for some truly historic headlines.
So, in honor of the dying form of art that is the newspaper, let’s go through a dry run of possible Masters headlines we can read one week from today:
1: “TIGER TO JACK: FIFTEEN AND COUNTING … “
There would be precisely zero people on Planet Earth who would be surprised if Tiger Woods followed up his Bay Hill drama with a fifth green jacket. If you were to put a gun to my head – and please, don’t – this is the headline I would bet on as Most Likely to Succeed.
2: “PHIL TO TIGER: HOW BOUT DEM APPLES? … ”
Yes, Lefty missed the cut at Houston last week, but has there ever been a player for whom a previous week’s results predict a following week’s results LESS than Phil Mickelson? He spent most of the West Coast swing looking like a Hooters Tour player who took a wrong turn into a PGA Tour parking lot, then burst out of nowhere to win at Riviera, and followed it up with a strong victory at Doral. The last time we saw Phil, he said he “cannot wait” for the Masters, and was mathematically closer to Tiger at No. 1 than ever before. That time is here, that time is now. OK, Lefty. Let’s see what you’ve got planned for us.
3: “PADDY FINDS A THREE-LEAFED CLOVER … “
Count me among the millions who forgot: THERE’S A GUY COMING TO THE MASTERS WHO HAS WON TWO MAJORS IN A ROW!! OK, now in softer voice: No player in the field has two consecutive major championships … EXCEPT IRELAND’S PADRAIG HARRINGTON!! Wait. I used that loud voice again. Sorry. Poor Harrington: Gracious, humble, talented, classy, and nobody pays him any heed. Come on, Padraig. Go do your thing.
4: “TEENAGE WASTELAND: MCILROY/LEE/ISHIKAWA MAKE THE CUT, CONTEND ON SUNDAY … ”
The new generation is coming, and in teenagers Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Danny Lee of New Zealand and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, we have, hopefully, the first wave of players who have no Tiger Woods-issued scar tissue. It’s too much to ask for any of these three to contend on Sunday, but I’ll look for two of the three to make the cut, and call that a victory. Remember, when Tiger was 19, and in his first Masters, he made the cut, also.
5: “NORMAN CONQUEST: THE SHARK IN THE 54-HOLE LEAD … “
Greg Norman’s invitation to this year’s Masters is one of the unquestioned highlights of the year. Nine times did Norman finish top-six at the Masters, and if you simply say the words “Greg Norman, Masters, 1996” it may be cause for everyone present to fall silent, light a candle and hold a vigil for the patron saint of Masters Tragedies. Norman at Birkdale last summer was a thing of beauty, and some of his golf this past weekend at Houston was inspiring. So, if one thing leads to another, and a few putts fall, and the crowd inspires him, and Chrissy Evert has a pimento sandwich on Saturday …
6: “SAY IT AIN’T SO: SHARK DROWNS ON SUNDAY … ”
Man, I should go straight to Sportswriter Hell for even bringing up this possibility, but what if Greg Norman plays well? What if Greg Norman contends after 54 holes, as he did at Birkdale? And what if, heaven forbid, we all have to re-live 1996? I can’t see my keyboard anymore. I’m hiding my eyes.
See? The 2009 Masters: Potential for Epic Drama.
Scorecard of the week
• 66-74-70-69 – Brittany Lincicome, 9-under, 1st place, LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship.
We watch sports for the moments, and Brittany Lincicome delivered a Moment on Sunday in the California desert – unless you’re the sort who yawns at a 72nd hole eagle to win a major championship by one stroke.
How refreshing to see a young American star carve her name into women’s golf lore with a combination of monster strength off the tee, steely shotmaking under fire and a megawatt smile for the cameras.
Lincicome didn’t just icily crush a hybrid from 210 yards out to three feet on the par-5 18th at Mission Hills for the Shot of the Year, she also admitted afterward that her hands were shaking all the while over the eagle putt – and minutes afterward, too.
Yes! At last we all can relate to these superstar pros. Shoot, if I have a 5-footer to break 95 on my 18th hole, my hands shake like I’m playing maracas. It’s nice to know that these big-time players get the shaky shakes every now and again, too.
The Nabisco made for good TV, for reasons other than the three-way duel between Lincicome, Kristy McPherson and veteran Cristie Kerr, and for reasons other than the spectacular sight of the Santa Rosa Mountains framed against a California blue April sky.
My favorite reason became realized moments in, when I heard the unmistakably dulcet tones of the legendary Verne Lundquist, welcoming us to the Kraft Nabisco.
Verne! The man himself. This time of year, I get all warm and fuzzy anticipating Verne posting up at the 16th tower at Augusta National, easily the best part of Masters Week. Forget Butler Cabin. That’s for posers.
With his combination roles of elder statesman, favorite uncle and Spartan wordsmith, Verne can conjure the goose bumps like no other. Is it a coincidence that two of the best Masters calls in the last 30 years – “Yes, sir!” for Jack’s 17th hole putt in 1986; and “In all of your life, have you seen anything like it?” for Tiger’s chip in on 16 in 2005 – come from Uncle Verne? I think not.
Plus, he works March Madness with Bill Raftery. The Raftery-Lundquist combination is high up on the Awesome Things About American Culture List I’m working on, somewhere between the E Street Band and In-N-Out burgers.
At any rate, Verne delivered again on Sunday. When Lincicome’s Hall of Fame hybrid tracked, we heard Lincicome say: “Please be good!” Verne let the words linger, then said quietly: “Please be good, she asked,” he said, and as her golf ball rolled closer and closer and closer, he added dryly: “It listened.”
As for Lincicome, there’s a lot to like and not just because her last name is nearly the same as San Francisco Giants Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who draws the Opening Day start Tuesday for my ballclub.
McPherson calls the 5-foot-10 Lincicome “Bam Bam” for her prodigious length. She’s easygoing enough to offer McPherson a high-five for McPherson nearly acing the 71st hole – when only one stroke separated them for a major championship.
And – yes, we have to say it – she is yet another young’un to produce on a major stage while we wait for Ol’ What’s Her Face to do something, anything, to show she has a pulse.
In case you missed it, Michelle Wie went 71-81-81-71 – tie 67th, out of 70 who made the cut. Reach for the Zantac, Wie fans.
Meanwhile, Verne: Get on a bird from Palm Springs to Augusta, Ga. Have some peanuts, maybe a Coca-Cola, and get a nap. We’ll see you next week, my man.
Mulligan of the week
• The Shell Houston Open bucked the tradition of sleepy tournaments the week before the Masters, rolling out 15 of the world’s top 20, plus Greg Norman and Fred Couples, in a surprisingly solid bit of theatre. At various points in the final round, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Geoff Ogilvy and Couples held our attention, until ultimately it was a playoff between Englishman Paul Casey and J.B. Holmes, the last Ryder Cup team member who had not qualified for the Masters.
Holmes could punch his ticket to Augusta National with a win, but when time came for him to hit his tee shot on 18, the playoff hole, he promptly tugged it … left, and into the water.
No Augusta National for Holmes, as Casey won the hole with a bogey.
Given that Casey was already booked for the Masters, and given that Holmes was a solid Ryder Cupper for the good ol' US of A, can we go back to 18 and … give that man a mulligan?
Broadcast moment of the week
• “Maybe he was aiming at the Shell sign.” – Johnny Miller, calling Greg Norman’s outrageously off-target approach at 18 on Sunday in Houston.
It was just a fleeting moment in NBC’s broadcast, but it was pure Miller: funny, caustic and unafraid to take on the game’s legends.
The Shell sign in question was part of a display in the middle of the water hazard on 18, a good 80 yards left of the fairway. Norman’s line shot toward the Shell sign was part of a final-round 81, not the sort of pre-Masters tune-up that will have pens waxing poetic in the press room at “the National.”
My small personal dream is to have Miller work just one Masters in the broadcast booth. Because he is tied to NBC, and because the Masters has been on CBS since Clifford Roberts was among the Top 5 Most Powerful Men in the History of Western Civilization, we’ll never see it.
But wouldn’t it be a blast? We could all do with Miller ripping the course set-up, questioning Phil Mickelson’s game plan and dropping a few well-placed “choke” bombs on Sunday’s back nine.
Let’s start the grassroots petition: GMTTM (Get Miller to the Masters).
Where do we go from here?
• To the couch, for about 150 hours of Masters coverage. And is it OK if I text Verne Lundquist during the final round, just to see if he needs anything?