Masters 2012: Why Augusta Is Golf's Greatest Event of the Year
There is nothing in golf like the Masters. This is an irrefutable fact.
What is in question is why there is nothing like the Masters.
Does the Masters have more than a century of tradition like the U.S. Open or The Open Championship? No. It has only been around since 1934.
Do they play the Masters on a number of beautiful courses throughout the United States, like the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship? No. The Masters is always played at August National. (Which is not a course to sneeze at.)
Is the Masters played in the birthplace of golf, like The Open? Is it open to anyone to try to qualify for, run by one of the governing bodies of the game? Is it the championship for a huge association of people who teach the rest of us how to play the game?
No, no, and no.
So, what is it that makes the Masters the greatest event of the year?
August National Golf Club
David Cannon/Getty Images
Augusta National Golf Club is a remarkable patch of land in Augusta, GA. The course was originally designed by Alister MacKenzie, but it has undergone nearly constant renovation to maintain the challenge of the course in the face of advancing club and ball technology. Basically, all that is left is the routing from MacKenzie's original design.
The current course is a 7,435-yard par-72, and it features some of the most widely recognizable features in the world of golf. What images spring to your mind when you read the following phrases:
- Amen Corner
- Rae's Creek
- Eisenhower's Tree
- Sarazen Bridge
- Hogen Bridge
- Nelson Bridge
Because the same course is played every year, even people who have never been to the Masters know things about this course.
We all know you can't come up short on the ninth green. We all know that going over the 13th green is practically an automatic bogey or worse. We all know that the play on 16 on Sunday is to put the ball on the middle of the green and let the slope bring it to the hole.
And, certainly we all know that you don't aim at the pin on the 12th on Sunday.
We know these things because this remarkable course is the only one that has ever or will ever host the Masters.
When It Is Played
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
After spending the last four months or more shivering in our homes, the Masters represents the unofficial beginning of spring and the golf season.
The players on tour have been playing for three months by the time the Masters comes around, but for most of us, it is our first look at green grass, flowers, and sun in a long time.
The timing (Masters Sunday is always the second Sunday in April) also places it on an island from the other majors, which tend to run together during the summer.
From June on, we have three majors, the Ryder or President's Cups, and the Chase for the FedEx cup during golf's playoffs. There is plenty to watch once the calendar slips into the summer months.
Fans of golf, however, have been waiting since August for an event of historical significance. After the Masters, we have to wait more than two months for the U.S. Open to be played.
The Masters takes center stage as the only major played in the first five months of the calendar year, which gives it more significance and greater meaning.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
If you love watching golf, you have to love watching the Masters.
Watching the other three majors can be a test of your patience as you are inundated with commercials hawking everything from motor oil, to beer, to erectile dysfunction medication.
During the Masters, you will only see four minutes of commercials per hour, as opposed to 12 or more minutes during broadcasts of other tournaments.
Plus, the membership of Augusta National only allow certain brands to advertise. You will not see commercials for alcohol, money management, medications, or even promos for shows that appear after Masters coverage. The lone exception to this last rule is an on-screen promo for 60 Minutes on Sunday.
Granted, the Masters has the fewest hours of actual coverage of all the majors, but this is not always a bad thing. Isn't it an axiom in the entertainment industry to "always leave them wanting more"?
Beginning in 2002, the part fans had been begging for finally happened. We now see all 18 holes of the leaders on Sunday.
That is great.
David Cannon/Getty Images
In 1935, Gene Sarazen hit what might be one of the most famous shots ever struck. The "Shot heard 'round the world" was an albatross two on the par-five 15th hole. The shot sparked the Squire to a five-stroke win in the second Masters ever played.
In 1986, during a remarkable stretch of golf by the then 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear capped off an eagle-birdie-birdie run by sinking an improbable birdie on the 17th hole. He would post a final-round 65 and win his record sixth Masters.
In 1992, Fred Couples did the unthinkable by playing at the pin on the 12th on Sunday. As often happens, Couples shot came up short and began rolling back into Rae's Creek only to stop short of the water. Couples would save par and went on to win his only major championship.
In 2005, after his tee shot ended up left of the green on the par-three 16th, Tiger Woods chipped in for a birdie by rolling his ball up the slope of the green and letting it feed back down. Footage of the shot would be used in Nike commercials not long after Woods slipped on his fourth Green Jacket.
Not all shots are good at the Masters, however.
In 2011, Rory McIlroy arrived on the 10th tee on Sunday with the lead. His tee shot was so far left that he was next to bungalows. Most of the world didn't even know those bungalows existed until McIlroy hit that shot. He would triple-bogey the hole and begin an amazing meltdown that saw him finish T15 for the tournament.
In 1996, Greg Norman began his generation-defining collapse by spinning his second shot off the front of the ninth green (a cardinal sin at Augusta). The images of Norman walking toward his ball while it rolled back toward him down the hill are unforgettable. After taking a six-stroke lead into the final round, he would lose to eventual champion Nick Faldo by five.
Perhaps the most disturbing shot, or series of shots, was Tom Weiskopf dumping nearly two sleeves of balls in Rae's Creek on the 12th in 1980. After washing five balls, Weiskopf finally carded a 13.
Unbelievable shots and scores aren't the exclusive property of the Masters, but it certainly seems like the Masters gets more than its fair share.
Anyone from Anywhere Can Win
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Here are the men who have won the Masters in the last 20 years:
- Tiger Woods (4 times)
- Phil Mickelson (3)
- Jose Maria Olazabal (2)
- Angel Cabrera
- Fred Couples
- Ben Crenshaw
- Nick Faldo
- Trevor Immelman
- Zach Johnson
- Bernhard Langer
- Mark O'Meara
- Charl Schwartzel
- Vijay Singh
- Mike Weir
- Ian Woosnam
Notice anything in common with those men? No? That's because there really isn't anything.
There are a few Europeans, a bunch of Americans, a Canadian, an Argentinian, a South African, and a Fijian.
There are long hitters (Woods, Couples, Mickelson) and guys who are more known to be shot-makers (Faldo, O'Meara, Johnson).
Great putters (Crenshaw) and streaky putters (Woods). Straight drivers (Weir) and guys who see a lot more of the course (Olazabal).
There are guys who have transcended the sport (Woods, Mickelson) and guys you would have had to Google to know they were golf players before they won (Schwartzel).
In short, there is no one characteristic that can define a Masters champion. He is as likely to be from Cape Town as Cape Fear. He is as likely to be a long-knocker as average length. He's as likely to make a mile's worth of putts as he is to miss a three footer.
The one thing all those men have in common is that they have all won the Masters.
Sub-Par Rounds Are Okay, Even Embraced at Augusta
Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Everyone talks about protecting par. The USGA tends to be the loudest proponent of guarding the integrity of par.
To wit, the average score to par over the last 20 years at the Masters is -11.3. Compare that to -10.8 at the PGA, -8.8 at the Open Championship, and a paltry -3.6 at the U.S. Open.
To break it down a little more succinctly, over the past 20 years at the PGA, 12 times the winning score has been 10 under par or lower. At the Open Championship, the winner finished 10-under or lower 11 times; or the U.S. Open, where the winning score was 10-under or lower only twice.
At the Masters, the winner was double digits under par 13 times out of the last 20 years.
The lords of Augusta don't seem to mind when the scores go low. Another example of this is the resistance of the Masters Tournament committee to change the course par to 71 or even 70 considering that at least two of the par-5 holes on the course are easily reachable in two shots.
It is refreshing to watch the pros play shots and score. For most of us, if we wanted to watch guys chunking golf balls out of the rough all afternoon, we would simply play a round with our usual foursome.
I'm not saying it's not fun to watch Tiger win by a dozen, but it's more fun when Charl Schwartzel birdies the last four holes to come from nowhere and win his first major.