We open Masters Week with a philosophical query:
If, as is taught throughout the world, you cannot trust a man with two first names – who knows what guys named Roger Craig or Larry David are up to, anyway? – can you implicitly trust a man with two LAST names?
Which brings us to Johnson Wagner.
Trust this: There is no happier man in the state of Georgia this morning than Johnson Wagner, unless you're counting the convenience store owner in Augusta who is currently jacking the price of a 12-pack of Keystone Light to double, the better to take advantage of thirsty sportswriters returning to rented homes at the end of a long day typing.
Not many of us knew who Johnson Wagner was when the week started. I'm not even sure close family and friends knew who Johnson Wagner was when the week started. As the winner of the Shell Houston Open at Redstone on Sunday, Wagner is now known as the winner of golf's Wonka ticket: an automatic berth in the Masters.
Which is convenient, since the Masters starts Thursday.
Wagner's story is further proof Billy Payne made the right move when he re-instituted the win-and-you're-in policy. It makes for good theatre in the tournaments leading up to the Masters and gives you a reason to care about the Shell Houston Open, other than wondering aloud: "Hey, is the Shell Houston Open over yet? I want the Masters to start."
Figuring out the previous system of allowing the top 50 ranked players the week prior to the Masters required an abacus, a password and aspirin. Now, it's pretty simple and fun. You get to say: "Hey, if Johnson Wagner totally gags and pumps this tee shot on 18 into the water, he may blow his only chance ever at the Masters! Honey, scoot to the fridge and get me another beer, would ya?"
All hail Wagner, who coolly made par on the aquatic expanse that is 18 at Redstone. It was a sweet coda to a tournament that started with a 63 on Thursday and got me excited to bang out a column that would speculate on the magic that Johnson Wagner would feel when he first set foot in the golf chapel that is Augusta National.
Lucky enough to cover four Masters for the San Francisco Chronicle, and even luckier still to win the media lottery in '02 and play the track one day after Tiger held off Retief Goosen for major No. 7, I felt I could lend Wagner a helping hand and give him my special "Murph Map" to Bobby Jones' li'l ole golf course.
Among the suggestions I came up with:
• Flex your muscle and buy all your Masters sweaters, hats, ball markers, cocktail glasses, visors, polo shirts, tees, socks, wind shirts, umbrellas, coasters and folding chairs in the super-exclusive pro shop, where entry is only allowable with a special badge. Don't stand in line in the massive souvenir store near the entrance. It's for the peasants, Johnson.
• When eating lunch in the clubhouse near Arnold Palmer, order an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea) from your server. I did it once. It's an incalculable thrill.
• Try to bribe the security guard stationed in front of the Champion's Locker Room for a look-see. If so, try with more than five dollars. It didn't work for me.
• Don't hit your tee shot on 12 into the water. If you do, don't drop in the drop area and then blade your third shot into the hill behind the green. Not that I know anybody who did that.
• If at all possible, break into Tiger Woods' locker and steal something. It might be worth something down the road. That guy is good.
Wait. Did I just advocate stealing? Clearly, my Masters buzz is out of control.
At any rate, all this advice is useless. I just learned that Johnson Wagner is to the manner born. His grandmother's brother – his great uncle – is a member at Augusta National. Turns out Johnson Wagner has stayed on the grounds, dined in the clubhouse and played 36 holes – twice! – during his stay. The guy's a veritable regular in the Saturday morning Nassau.
I should have known his story was too good to be true. Turns out you can't trust a guy with two last names.
Scorecard of the week
69-72-69-73 – Davis Love III, tie-26th, Shell Houston Open
It's funny about Davis Love. He's never won a Masters, though he finished second in 1995 (Crenshaw) and 1999 (Olazabal). And yet, having played every Masters since 1991 and serving as the unofficial Masters spokesman every year since then, always counted on for a quote describing the privilege and magic of Augusta National, he's second only to Freddie Couples in terms of old-school, pre-Tiger, Masters identification.
And now it's official: No Davis Love at the Masters this year.
Owing to injuries and too many high scores over the last year, Love needed to win the Shell Houston Open to punch his ticket to Augusta National. He didn't. Now, for the first time since Iraq War I, there will be no Davis driving down Magnolia Lane.
Weird. Now, it's just Freddie to represent that pre-Tiger scene.
Davis? He's going turkey hunting. Have a good one.
Mulligan of the week
Eighteen at Redstone is the work of Satan.
How can a golf hole that represents the 72nd hole of a PGA Tour-sanctioned event feature a – what? – 230-yard carry over a man-made lake? Only if the golf course was designed by a man in a red jumpsuit with a trident in his golf bag. Turns out we have Rees Jones and David Toms to thank.
That said, when Johnson Wagner came to 18 with a two-shot lead, a first career PGA Tour win in the balance and a ticket to the Masters one hole away, I had his back. If, indeed, Wagner pumped his tee shot into the water, I think every golf fan in the world would join me in this gesture: We sidle up to the tee box, Titleist in pocket, slyly flip it at his feet and say with a mumble/whisper/attaboy…"Go ahead, man. Take another one."
If it had happened, I'd have said: Give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
"Nineteen." – Tiger Woods to Scott Van Pelt, ESPN, April 6, 2008
Here's the thing: Tiger's answer was to a question from Van Pelt that said, "If you could choose between 17 major wins or 100 career PGA Tour wins, which would it be?"
Quoth Tiger: "Nineteen."
Prior, Van Pelt had greased the wheels with the question, "Nineteen major wins, or 100 PGA Tour wins?" Naturally, Tiger chose the former.
Van Pelt then dropped the hammer: "17 or 100?"
Quoth Tiger: "Nineteen."
Van Pelt tried to protest, saying that wasn't an option in the question. Answer the question, he said! 17 or 100?
Quoth Tiger, with a smile: "Nineteen."
This, friends, is why Tiger wears the green jacket on Sunday night.
Where do we go from here?
Ask Johnson Wagner: Augusta National, ahoy!