By Max Adler
AUGUSTA — Is this the first Masters in history where the practice rounds were more electric than the tournament rounds?
No disrespect to champion Scottie Scheffler, but the unfortunate obverse of wire-to-wire victories tends to be evaporating excitement, even when it’s the world No. 1 pitted against the globe’s next hottest player in the final group on a Sunday. A four-putt finish is no exclamation point, but the sentence was already running on when Cameron Smith’s tee shot floated away in Rae’s Creek at No. 12.
Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa capping their tournaments with holed bunker shots together thrilled, but in this 86th edition the climax was unquestionably Tiger Woods mid-week.
No need to rehash the narrative arc from the Daniel Field jet tracker to the coy press room remarks to the Thursday red figure (71). The chat on the grounds of Augusta National began with a frenzy, as it did everywhere golf is talked. While it’s unremarkable for an exciting thing to become less exciting, the point here is to properly celebrate Tiger’s 78-78 finish. He has reminded all of us what it means to compete.
Jack Nicklaus said he would never be a ceremonial golfer, and Tiger has maintained with adamance he will never enter a tournament he doesn’t believe he can win. But neither really means it. And even if Tiger does mean it now, maybe that softened a little this week and will more so in the future. Jack played majors until age 65.
If the middle act of this Masters was a gift to golf fans, let the closing act be inspiration to golfers. Across all ability levels, people give up every day. While ‘giving up’ has varying meanings — not entering tournaments, not entering certain tournaments, or never placing your hands on a golf grip again — it’s especially preponderant among better amateur and club golfers. Tiger Woods is 46 years old, the age in life when goals often shift to simply not getting worse, or not getting worse too fast. When your game isn’t what it once was or what you’d like it to be, it can be tempting to pack it in.
But to enter a golf tournament is a special experience. At the Masters, on the first tee there’s a wooden box of scorecards and pencils and lifesaver mints, just as there probably is where you play, even if that’s the fifth-flight net bracket. So what if Tiger played far beneath the standards of his prime and finished 47th? He was here.
Does Tiger consider this Masters one of the greatest achievements of his career? “For not wining an event, yes. Without a doubt,” he said, limping but smiling on Sunday. “The amount of texts and Facetimes and calls I got from players that are close to me throughout this entire time has meant a lot.”
While most of us (thankfully) have not been through comparable ordeals and never will, the support from your golf buddies would be the same. Enter a tournament maybe you can’t win.
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