2011 Masters: 10 Things We Learned During the Tournament
What an amazing, unbelievable Masters, the 2011 version, was.
We got everything.
We got Tiger making a charge. We got the young players showing us what the future holds. We got wily veterans playing for their first major.
We had a range of scores all over the course, some of them painful to watch, some of them sublime.
Eight different players had a share of the lead during different points of the back-nine, and at one point five men were tied atop the leader board. How is that for drama and excitement?
We also got a very deserving champion who was one of only two men in the top-10 to play every round under par. (Angel Cabrera was the other)
So let's see what we learned this week at the 75th playing of the Masters.
No. 1—Tiger Woods Does Not Need His "A Game" to Compete
Tiger Woods has not won a major event in 22 months. By the time the next major is played, in June, it will be nearly two years exactly.
He has been making a swing change in the last few months, and his life is still in a state of flux since his very public divorce.
What we learned, especially on Sunday, was that Tiger Woods does not need to knock flags down all over the course and make a mile's worth of putts to be in contention. He can make birdies and eagles just with raw power and a few good breaks.
What we also learned is that he is still not quite there. The changes he is making in his game have not taken hold yet.
Need proof? Check his distance control on holes 14, 17 and 18 on Saturday. Or the shot he hit over the green on 13 on Sunday. You simply cannot go over that green and expect to make anything better than par.
He blasted his second shot on 18 so far over the green on Saturday that he got a break when the ball hit a camera tripod and rebounded toward the green.
I'm sure Tiger will say that his putting was not good, and in truth it could have been better, but he made great putts on eight for eagle and on nine for par.
Granted, he missed a couple putts he probably expected to make, like the eagle putt on 15 that would have given him the outright lead at the time, but Augusta can make you miss putts like no other course.
One thing is for sure: If Tiger finds a way to put it all together, he will win again soon, and he will win big.
No. 2—It Is Really, Really Hard to Defend a Masters Title
Coming off a great win in Houston the week before, Phil Mickelson was the favorite to win the Masters and repeat as champion this week.
Phil just couldn't seem to find his rhythm around Augusta and never shot in the 60s all week.
Phil can make birdies in bunches and can make them at an alarming rate. Also, he has the length to reach any of the par-5 holes at Augusta and make eagles.
How many eagles did Phil make this year? Zero. In 2010, he made three.
He made 13 birdies this year, but also made eight bogies and two double-bogies to finish at one-under.
Compare that to a year ago when he made 16 birdies, 6 bogies, and not a single double-bogey to finish at 16-under.
The point is that it is very hard to repeat as Masters champion. That is why in 75 playings only three times has someone successfully defended his title.
The last time was when Tiger Woods did it nine years ago.
Phil is forty now. It will not be any easier to win than it was this time.
No. 3—Rory McIlroy Will Be Back, but That Back Nine Had to Suck
Rory McIlroy took a four stroke lead into the final round of the Masters on Sunday.
Even I stated, on this very website, that he would win in a walk.
There were signs early in the round that trouble was afoot. The bogey on one. The bogey on five.
But it looked like he was going to hold it together.
Then he played the tenth hole.
The trouble started with a drive that was so far left that even I, a man who has watched the Masters religiously since Jack Nicklaus stormed back and won his sixth 25 years ago, I didn't know that there were cabins over there.
He did the best he could by getting the ball back out of the trees, but he still had something in the area of two miles to the green for his third.
Left of the green after three, still left of the green after four, on the green in five and two putts later and a collapse of epic proportions was on.
He would bogey 11, double-bogey 12 and manage to play the last six holes one over by making five pars and a bogey on 15.
Those five pars and a bogey tell you a lot about Rory McIlroy. It would have been easy to simply walk off the course, or just to forget it all and slap it around, but he didn't do that.
Instead, McIlroy showed real grit and continued to play a round that I'm sure must have been painful to finish.
He was the best player on the course for three and a half days and you can be sure he will learn from this. He will grow from this, and he will, without a doubt, win a major.
And it will be soon.
No. 4—It Is Simply Amazing That an Aussie Has Not Won This Tournament
The Masters has been won by an American more times, as a percentage of its playing, than any other major.
But it has been won by players from nine countries other than the United States.
In 75 playings, not once has a man from Australia won this event.
When you consider all the great Aussie golf players now and through the years, you have to wonder why.
This year was the closest an Aussie has come since Greg Norman's disintegration on the back nine in 1996.
Ian-Baker Finch was once the best player on earth and won the Open Championship in 1991. His best finish at the Masters was a tie for sixth.
Greg Norman also held the title of world's number one golfer. His best finish at Augusta was 2nd, three times. He won the Open Championship twice.
Steve Elkington won a PGA Championship, but never finished better than a tie for 3rd at the Masters.
Geoff Ogilvy is a U.S. Open Champion, and just got the best finish he has ever made at Augusta, a tie for fourth.
Adam Scott and Jason Day finished tied for second this year.
Six men finished fourth or better in this tournament. Half of them were Aussies.
Australia has been well represented on the PGA Tour and in the majors for many years. It can only be a matter of time before an Aussie slips on a Green Jacket.
No. 5—Charl Schwartzel Deserved to Win
On the first hole he pitched in for birdie after missing the green right.
On the third hole, he backed his second shot into the hole for great eagle.
His lone bogey on the round came at the par-3 fourth, and he was hardly the only man to bogey that hole on Sunday.
While the rest of the field was moving up and down the leader board as if they were trying to see what range of scores he could produce, Schwartzel kept churning out pars.
He made par on the difficult 10th hole. He made par through Amen Corner.
And when he needed it most, he birdied the par-5 15th hole and kept making birdies until he ran out of holes to play.
He didn't even need the birdie on 18 to win, but he was there and seemed to say, "Well, why not?"
It was as amazing a closing four holes as I can remember since 25 years ago when Jack Nicklaus went eagle, birdie, birdie, par to close out a back-nine 30.
Indeed, commentators were searching record books to see if any Masters winner had ever birdie that last four holes. To my knowledge, none has.
He played made the best score of the day, one better than he needed to win.
You can say McIlroy lost this Masters, and it wouldn't be unfair to say that, but after he fell apart, and it was anyone's tournament to win, Charl Schwartzel went out and won it.
No. 6—Augusta National Is the Perfect Risk/Reward Golf Course
Augusta National is a great venue for dozens of reasons, but one of the biggest is that players can go out and shoot just about any score.
The U.S. Open and PGA Championship seem to be happy not allowing players to make pars. They revel in their courses being set up very hard, where par is a good score.
The Open Championship has the history and the fact that it really is a different game when you are playing links golf.
The Masters committee seems to like that players can and do make birdies and eagles around Augusta. They even give you a crystal memento when you make eagle at the Masters.
That being said, they are not going to give those good scores to players. Players have to go out and earn them. Players have to hit bold shots and have to hit them well.
Unlike other major championship venues, Augusta pars are possible even if you do not strike perfect shots, but if you are going to take it low, you are going to have to execute at a very high level.
That is Augusta National in a nutshell. If you make the shots, from the tee shot until the ball is in the hole, you can make a great score there. If you don't execute every shot, you will quickly find other players blowing past you.
No. 7—No Lead Is Safe at Augusta
Because of reason number six, reason number seven is true.
Rory McIlroy took a four stroke lead into the final round on Sunday and imploded on the back nine. Even if he had shot even par for the final round, he still would have been tied for second.
At the other majors, a player with a four stroke lead with 18 to play is nearly a mortal lock to win. Not at Augusta.
At the Masters, if you stop playing, you stop winning.
15 years ago, Greg Norman collapsed on the last 10 holes on Sunday while Nick Faldo lapped him. Norman went from winning by six to losing by five.
Mickelson came from one back to win in 2010.
Cabrera and Kenny Perry were tied for the 54-hole lead in 2009. Chad Campbell chased them down to get into a playoff.
Zach Johnson came from two back in 2007 to win.
Players crumble at every tournament, but at the Masters, with low scores available as well as high scores, players can and do come from behind all the time.
No. 8—There Is a Distinctly International Flavor to the Masters Now
In the first 24 playings of this event, players from the United States of America won 24 times.
In the next 19 playings, Gary Player won three times. He was the only man not from America to win the Masters in the first 43 events.
Since 1980, when Seve Ballesteros became the second international player to win the Masters, non-American players have won 16 times out of 32 events.
After years of domination of this event, it is no longer a lock that an American will win. Heck, it's only even money.
In the last 10 years, if you take Tiger and Phil out of the equation, only one man from American has won the Masters, Zach Johnson.
No. 9—We Are Witnessing the End of American Golf Dominance
In the history of the current golf major championships, there have been three times when an American player held none of the major championships.
Two of those times have happened in the last three years and all three have occurred since 1994.
When Nick Price won the PGA in 1994, it marked the first time since the inception of the Masters that an American wasn't the defending champion at a major.
The next time was when Trevor Immelman won the Masters three years ago.
In fact, going back to the 2009 PGA, players from six different countries have won the last six majors.
Only one American, Tiger, was in the top seven at this Masters, and he needed a front-nine 31 to get that high up the leader board.
International players are here and they are here to stay.
No. 10—Phil Mickelson Is Great, but the Window Is Closing
I love the way Phil Mickelson plays the game and clearly I am not alone.
He might be the most beloved player of this generation.
However, he is 40-years-old right now and the list of major championship winners in their 40s is depressingly short.
In the last 30 years, only two men have won major championship when they were 40 or older. Mark O'Meara when he won the Masters and the Open Championship in 1998, and Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters.
The game has always been a young man's game, but even more so now.
We may have witnessed the last time Phil is helped with putting on a Green Jacket. It is a shame that it took so long for him to win his first major because four majors for a player of his talent and imagination doesn't seem like enough.