- Is Tiger Woods about to embark on another streak of dominance? Or will the 2019 Masters prove to be his swan song? Here are 18 thoughts and questions with Augusta in the books.
It has now been two days since Tiger Woods won the Masters—and it still doesn’t seem real.
Not just Tiger’s victory, but the whole week: The comically stacked leaderboard from Friday on; the birdie explosion on Saturday; the 7:30 a.m., threesome, double-tee start on Sunday in anticipation of a storm that never really materialized; the delicate little 12th hole ravaging so many players’ tournaments; the embrace between Tiger and his children off the 18th green.
We were blessed with a year’s worth of drama in the first major of the season. Good luck following this one up, Bethpage, Pebble and Portrush.
In an attempt to summarize one of the best (and wildest) golf weeks you’ll ever see, here are 18 parting thoughts from the 2019 Masters Tournament.
1. Tiger’s victory essentially slammed the door shut on the “comeback” chapter of his life. How long that chapter goes back is a matter of opinion: did it start when he lost a Sunday lead to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA? Did it start when he crashed into that fire hydrant and his world came crashing down? Or did it start after he reached No. 1 in the world again in his overlooked 2012-13 stretch?
Whenever it started, it’s now finished. Even the most fervent Tiger haters can’t say he’s not back after he just won the Masters—especially when fending off a loaded leaderboard. The most compelling question now is, what’s next in the Tiger Woods saga? Does this spark another streak of dominance, like we saw in ’00-’02 and ’05-’07? It’s certainly possible. He is back to being the best irons player in the world, and the next two majors come at Bethpage Black, where he won the U.S. Open in ’02 and finished T4 in ’09, and Pebble Beach, where he won the ’00 U.S. Open by 15 shots. Barring injury, he’s likely to be favored at both those tournaments. And this is now three majors that Woods has had a legitimate chance to win on the Sunday back nine. Perhaps this—having Tiger be a threat at more majors than he’s not—is once again the rule, rather than the exception.
Or will we look back on the ’19 Masters as Tiger’s swan song, the way we look at Jack Nicklaus’ victory at the ’86 Masters? Nickalus never won another PGA Tour event, let alone another major, after that storybook day. Tiger looks great physically, and he’s three years younger than Jack was in ’86, but let’s not forget that he’s 43 years old with a fused back. Nothing is certain.
2. Tiger has long been the most popular player in golf, but these days it seems he’s more widely liked than ever before. Certainly some of that has to do with his softer demeanor—he’s more of a three-dimensional human than he was his prime, when his singular focus was beating the crap out of everybody. He gives better answers in interviews and he appears happier on the golf course. But I think the biggest reason for his all-time high in popularity is the fact that people missed him when he was gone. Everyone loves a comeback story, and Tiger has been something of an underdog in recent years.
Now? No longer. The comeback is complete. He is no longer an underdog. He is once again one of the best players in the world. He’s back to winning major championships. How will the fans react if he wins another major this year? Will they tire of Tiger always being near the lead, like some did in the past? Or will they continue to urge him on as he chases Jack’s major record?
3. One more Tiger item before we shift gears. Between the chip in 2005 and yesterday’s 8-iron that sealed the deal, it feels like we should name the slope on Augusta’s 16th green after Tiger Woods. He has used it perfectly to win two green jackets. Tiger’s Tilt? Eldrick’s Angle? Not in love with either of those, but you get the idea.
4. On the Saturday before the Masters, 30 ladies competed in the final round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Jennifer Kupcho won the title with an electric back nine—she eagled 13, birdied 15, birdied 16 and birdied 18 for a five-under 67 and a four-shot victory.
It was a glittering display of the women’s game at a club that ignored it for so very long. The marketing campaign for this tournament would make you think this was a watershed moment for the entire gender, that Augusta was at the forefront of the gender equality movement. Hogwash. Women have been kicking ass on the world’s best golf courses since the 1890s. Augusta finally decided to open its doors decades late. So the very reason this event was so significant was because of Augusta National’s exclusionary history. Does the schoolyard bully get a pat on the back for finally letting his victim sit at the lunch table?
5. The mild-mannered Xander Schauffele doesn’t get nearly the attention that his fellow 25-year-old Americans—Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau—do. That’s due to his quiet demeanor and the fact that he hasn’t won a major. But make no mistake, he will be a force on the PGA Tour and a fixture on U.S. Ryder Cup teams for the next decade-plus.
Consider this: in his first eight starts in major championships, Schauffele has four finishes in the top six. The only other person to do that is Jack Nickalus. Rory McIlroy had two top-sixes in his first eight, Tiger and Phil and Spieth had one. I’ll go out on a limb and say Schauffele has two majors by the end of 2022.
6. Another riff on a 20-something star. I watched Jon Rahm for most of his round on Friday, and I was taken aback by just how emotional he is. He runs hot. Like, really, really hot. The smallest misstep, whether it’s a short-side leave or a misread five-footer gets him steaming. His curses and club slams are bad optics—professional golfers should be above that—but etiquette aside, it’s hurting his game. Major championship golf is going to test you mentally. Not everything is going to go swimmingly over the course of 72 holes. Reacting to each and every mistake is tiring and takes you out of focus.
7. Saturday was the wildest day of golf I can remember. Scores were historically low—there were 20 rounds in the 60s, tying the all-time record for a day at Augusta—and the players shooting the scores were world class. Tony Finau, Francesco Molinari, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Tiger all fired 69 or better on the same day. It’s a reminder of just how good these guys are. When greens are soft but still rolling as pure as they always do at Augusta, no hole is un-birdieable.
8. Excuse me for my youth, but that was the best golf tournament I have ever watched. Tiger’s comeback is the main reason why, of course, but the sheer number of elite players challenging for the title was unbelieveable. At one point on Sunday, when the final group had four or so holes remaining, there were seven players within one shot of the lead: Woods (world No. 12 at the time), Molinari (7), Koepka (4), Schauffele (10), Johnson (2), Jason Day (11) and Patrick Cantlay (21).
9. One world-class player who didn’t challenge was Justin Rose, who entered the week ranked No. 1 but bogeyed three of his last four holes Thursday to miss the cut. This, even more than Tiger’s victory, was the most shocking finish of the week. Rose had been the model of consistency, having posted top 10s in 10 of his previous 14 worldwide starts and three of his last four Masters. Never in a million years did I even consider him missing the cut.
10. I was shocked by the post-Sunday reactions of players who contended but fell short. Almost to the man, no one expressed anything resembling anger. They were simply grateful to have been in the mix on such an historic day. Some quotes…
Schauffele: “This situation is very unique. I am not one bit sad. I told my caddie on the last hole.”
Koepka: “It’s probably one of the coolest things to be a part of it. Even though you finished second place, you’re a little bummed out, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Don’t expect this to last. These guys wanted to see Tiger back at his best, and now they have. There’s no more feel-good aspect to it. If he wins the PGA or the U.S. Open, I’d be utterly shocked if players talk about how cool it was to witness that. Woods is now just another guy they have to beat.
11. Some announcer thoughts. Verne Ludnquist is the greatest, and you should read Stephanie Apstein’s profile on the 78-year-old who just can’t say goodbye to Augusta. He was masterful from his familiar post on 16 all week. And Jim Nantz made the right call to stay silent for a few minutes after the final putt dropped. Nothing he could have said would have been as impactful as the natural sound from that scene.
There was, however, one thing that bothered me. In the green jacket ceremony inside Butler Cabin, it was pretty clear that Nantz’s only goal was to get Tiger to cry. He asked sappy question after sappy question toward the end. Tiger didn’t budge.
Side note: I would have loved to hear the recently retired Johnny Miller rip into the guys who found the water on No. 12.
12. Before the tournament started, Augusta chairman Fred Ridley confirmed that the club had purchased land behind the 13th tee, and that lengthening the hole has been discussed.
Assuming the ball doesn’t get rolled back in the near future, that lengthening needs to happen, stat. I watched 61-year-old Bernhard Langer get home with an iron in a practice round. Tiger Woods hit 9-iron into the green Sunday. It’s just, at this point, not a par-5. The hole was so much more interesting in the women’s amateur, when players had to hit fairway woods or hybrids to go for the green. For the women, it was a true risk-reward hole. For the men, it’s nothing more than a long par-4. And that’s a shame, because it was originally one of the best par-5s ever conceived.
13. Golfers have a social media problem. That is, the vast majority clearly don’t run their own accounts. Case in point: three players—Pablo Larrazabal, Hatong Li and Justin Rose—sent out tweets about the women’s amateur with the exact. Same. Wording.
That’s lame, plain and simple. Take literally 30 seconds out of your day to write a heartfelt congratulations, or don’t tweet at all.
One player whose social media accounts aren’t a platform for PR jargon? Phil Mickelson. The video he posted from his drive up Magnolia Lane, where he took a shot at Matt Kuchar, was refreshingly candid and downright hilarious.
14. That Phil guy, he also has quite a good short game. Sometimes I honestly think he’s showing off. That’s hard to believe, given he was fully in contention when he hit this shot, but like…watch this and tell me with 100% certainty that he’s not showing off at least a little:
Oh, and he did it again, five holes later:
Imagine having the confidence to do that, off those lies, on the weekend at the Masters.
15. This is on the random side, but the scoreboards at Augusta use a “0” to represent even par, and it’s way, way, way cooler than an “E.” Now that I think of it, I quite prefer “level par,” which is how the Europeans say it, to “even par.”
16. The Zach Johnson thing on Friday was pretty funny—if you missed it, he accidentally hit the ball while making a practice swing on the 13th tee. Because it was unintentional, he was not penalized, so it was just a funny moment that didn’t result in any lasting consequences.
Golf needs more of that. And by “that,” I mean considering intent when making rules decisions. If he had made that same mistake in the middle of the fairway, it would count as a stroke, even if he didn’t mean to hit it. I’ve been saying this for a while, but I’ll say it again: the problem with the Rules of Golf is the lack of leeway for judgement calls. Rules officials get the short end of the stick; they’re forced to enforce the rules, even if they’re BS. Why not give them the freedom to say, “this wasn’t on purpose, he wasn’t trying to cheat, so we’re not going to give him a tournament-altering penalty.”
17. The difference between the Masters’ digital platforms and its television broadcast schedule is hard to overstate. You can watch basically every single shot from every single player in the field on Masters.com and on the Masters app, but television coverage didn’t start on Thursday until Tiger Woods was well into his back nine. I would understand the lack of TV hours if the strategy was to give people just enough so they want more, but then why make every shot available online? It’s getting harder and harder to justify having only four hours of TV coverage on Friday and Saturday.
18. And on the subject of technology, the no phone rule is good. Full stop. You pay more attention, you have better conversations and it’s a much-needed detox from the devices that run our lives. But it’s genuinely frustrating not being able to follow what’s happening on the holes beside the one you’re at. Perhaps there’s a solution—maybe handing out audio-only devices with earbuds at the gate, allowing patrons to listen to the broadcast and have an idea of what’s happening out there. This won’t happen, but I think it would add to the fan experience without desecrating the technology-free serenity of Augusta National.