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Kangaroo Bites Duck, Adam Scott Wins Australia its First Masters
Two guys not named Tiger Woods finally stole the headlines from 2013 Master but it took until the 72nd hole to do it. Australia's Adam Scott bested Argentina's Angel Cabrera in a two-hole sudden-death playoff after they each birdied the 18th.
But until then this was the Masters That Begged to be Forgotten - pouring rain, ugly rules violations, inconsistently administered penalties, it all made for a Masters that had a metaphorical cloud as well as too many real ones.
For most of this soggy Sunday, Adam Scott was shooting a 63 from tee to green, but couldn't make a putt all day with that telephone pole he calls a putter. Had he putted well, he would have run away with this Masters. But every time the camera cut to caddie Stevie "Best Win of My Life" Williams after Scott missed yet another makeable putt, Stevie looked like he swallowed a box of thumbtacks. Scott looked to be giving away the green jacket, even with birdies on 13 and 15.
Meanwhile Cabrera may not have had a stranglehold on the tournament, but he had every opportunity to put the clamps on for good with a good back nine.
After all, that's the reason why we love the Masters. It's the greatest 72-hole golf tournament in the world because it's also the greatest nine-hole tournament in the world.
Cabrera already stole two majors, so you can't sleep on the guy. He creeps up the leaderboard slowly and hangs around, bombing drives all over the park, making zany recovery shots, and holing putts from distant zip codes. He has only two PGA Tour wins - but both of them are majors. He snatched the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont from Woods with a closing 69, but only hit five fairways all day. That's the stat of a guy who shoots 79 and fades, not 1-under to win. Then at the 2009 Masters, he picked up the green jacket that Kenny Perry dropped on the ground while waving to the crowd.
But Cabrera won those two majors despite hitting some shockingly bad golf shots: grounders, goofy slices, pull-hooks, trees, ditches. He hits some of the loosest shots of any major champion you've ever seen, Phil Mickelson included. Sure enough, there he was this year letting the lead slip away with ugly bogeys at 10 and 13, and a mere par at the 15th. It looked like Scott would get more of a challenge from fellow Aussie Jason Day, but Day - normally rock-solid, inexplicably bogeyed 16 and 17 to leave the stage empty for Scott.
But suddenly Cabrera put his evil twin back in the trunk of the car and started playing real golf again . . . just in the nick of time. He birdied 16 and we were tied.
That's when the mundane turned magnificent. We didn't get much of a Masters all week, but we got a great finish in the clutch. Scott, playing directly in front of Cabrera, rolled in a 25-foot putt.
"It was an 8-iron from 161 yards, and it gave me the putt you want to have - uphill with a little right-to-left break," Scott explained. "It's the putt a lot of champions have had to win the Masters, and I said it's my time to step up, let's see if I can join them."
When that bomb went in, Scott let loose a pelvic thrust that would have made Mick Jaggar blush and made the heart of every girl from Tallahassee to Tacoma skip a beat.
"I thought for a split-second I had it won, but only for a split-second," Scott admitted.
Smart move, Adam, because Cabrera was unflappable. You don't win two majors by being passive. Unfazed, Cabrera shouted back with his golf clubs, and the clubs screamed, "Forget all this play-it-to-the-right-and-filter-to-the-pin nonsense, we're going right at it."
Cabrera threw a dart at the pin, 7-iron from 170, and put it to two feet.
Lightning just struck twice in the same place.
Scott won with a birdie at 10 in the gloaming - he made a medium-length putt after Cabrera missed one a shade longer, and we got a proper champion: a young Turk in full ascension, one who'll stay competitive for many years to come and will proudly carry all the hopes and rich golf history of Australia on his back. It's redemption for his horrific crash and burn at last year's British Open.
"I had to make that one - it was getting too dark to play any more," quipped the affable Scott.
Odd Masters Before Sunday
The sparkling finish brought to an end an otherwise flaccid and scandal-scarred Masters. Nonsense, weirdness and controversy overshadowed the first three days.
First there were the "apparel scripts." Sadly, golf tournaments are now fashion-show competitions as well, with players required to wear what the clothing manufacturers tell them.
"It's bad enough everyone acts the same, now they have to all dress the same? They can't even dress themselves?" jibed one irreverent Twitterer.
"Look what team Taylor Made is wearing! How bold and daring," joked another.
If a golf tournament is now also a fashion show, everyone gets failing marks for either being too milquetoast or too self-indulgent. For goodness sake, Rickie Fowler looked fluorescent even in purple, and in that chartreuse thing he looked like a Key Lime pie with hair. Ask yourself, do you really want to wear that crap on the golf course? Hey everybody, let's all shoot 99 and look stupid!
Then there was the NASCAR-like jostling on the leaderboard. From Friday through most of the back nine on Sunday, no one went on a run. Players either treaded water - giving back the birdies they made with mental mistakes - or slowly percolated downward. The usual puzzling stranger - Marc Leishman this year - managed to stay in the mix all four days, more because no one ran away and hid. And for Pete's sake, Bernhard Langer was even within hailing distance of the lead on Sunday
Bernhard Langer? Are you kidding me? Wasn't he fossilized in amber eons ago? He was, actually, but they defrosted him so he could throw it back to the Triassic period. I'm surprised he didn't play in a saber-tooth tiger skin and use a wooden club like in the B.C. comic strip. Cue Johnny Hart and his buddy Mort Walker.
But even with Scott and Cabrera's late heroics, the defining shot of this year's Masters was Tiger's approach on 15 that caromed off the flagstick and into the water, and effectively resulted in Woods losing a chance at the playoff with Cabrera and Scott.
It was defining for another reason - it once again defined Woods as selfish, self-indulgent, opportunistic, tone deaf to criticism and flat-out greedy - greedy for money, sponsors, applause and, most of all, Jack Nicklaus's major championship record, by hook or by crook.
And if he would have won this tournament it would have been stolen by a crooked twisting of the Rules of Golf into yoga-like contortions that were never intended. The primary focus of the rules is to protect the field. With discretionary application of disqualification rules, the field is now striated into a star system.
We all feared that to be the case on the PGA Tour, but now we have proof positive and all golf looks bad.
Woods intentionally - indeed, willfully - took a drop two yards behind the proper position to give himself an advantage on the next stroke. He said those words on TV for all the world to hear.
Golf has a number of obscure and confusing rules, but the Drop Rule, 26-1, is NOT one of them. Tiger has been playing golf daily for 35-and-a-half years. He knows damn well you don't drop two yards back to get a more favorable distance.
This wasn't an innocent mistake. He said so himself.
He broke the rules in a manner intended to gain an advantage.
He did not assess himself the required penalty.
He signed his scorecard for less strokes than he truly had.
And the tournament committee fell on its own sword because they didn't catch him, a TV viewer did.
Designed to combat the unfairness inherent in some microscopic infraction of the Rules no one might have seen or anticipated, Rule 33-7 let's you keep a guy in a tournament in these circumstances:
"A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the committee such action warranted. If a Committee considers that a player is guilty of a serious breach of etiquette, it may impose a penalty of disqualification under this Rule."
What are exceptional individual cases? Gee! ESPN, Augusta National and CBS neglected to tell us that! Here's what the Rules Decision goes on to explain:
"A Committee would not be justified under Rule 33-7 in waiving or modifying the disqualification penalty prescribed in Rule 6-6d if the competitor's failure to include the penalty stroke(s) was a result of either ignorance of the Rules or of facts that the competitor could have reasonably discovered prior to signing and returning his scorecard."
As one Internet commentator pointed out, "All three of the examples used to exempt a player from disqualification have to do with HD video, slow-motion video, or a camera with a high-powered zoom lens. None of those would be needed to see Tiger's rule infraction. A simple understanding of the rules would allow you to know Tiger was taking an illegal drop and Tiger was ignorant of the applicable rule."
Instead, the tournament committee read "Exceptional Individual Cases" rather literally: that we'll waive the rule for exceptional individuals! Tiger Woods is exceptional, someone else is not. Tiger brings in casual eyeballs, someone else does not. Tiger is chasing Jack's record, someone else is not.
The Rules must bind everyone, high and low, or they aren't laws at all. This sends the worst message possible
And while CBS and ESPN are just as complicit as the Masters Tournament in the sweep-up of the mess, no one got the chance to ask hard questions.
Tiger just went on with his "What? Me worry?" act just like he did before the sex scandal showed everyone what a cretin he truly is. This incident now confirms that he needs to be watched for being a cheetah on the golf course as well as off the course.
"I think he shud (withdraw)," 2001 British Open winner David Duval said Saturday via Twitter. "He took a drop to gain an advantage."
"I've been asked if Hogan would have WD'd in Tiger's situation. I thought about that last night. I think so. Jones and Nicklaus, for sure," agreed Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins.
"The landing of the drop must first be (close) to last shot played. Just about anybody can drop a ball within a foot of that, 2 yd = 2 far away," said fellow pro Stuart Appleby.
"If Tiger were to have won, this would forever have been known as the Masterisk," concluded Sports Illustrated writer Gary Van Sickle.
But in the end, we didn't need Woods, as we usually don't. We got a riveting finish, a proper champion, a clean, non-controversial result, and Australia is ringing with the cheering.
"I reckon it's time for a beer," fellow Aussie Geoff Ogilvy said, and he's right. Make it a Foster's . . . and good on ya mate. See you at Merion.
News, Notes & Quotes
• Cabrera never birdied 18 in any final round at the Masters until yesterday.
• This was the second playoff in a row at the Masters and third in the last five years. It was the 16th playoff in Masters history and the 10th in a sudden-death format. None have lasted longer than two holes.
• Cabrera eats steaks, he smokes cigars, drinks a lot of wine, has swarthy good looks, yet a frumpy physique, how can you not love him? He's the Latin world's proper rejoinder to Darren Clarke. On No. 10 in the playoff, he out-drove Scott with a 292-yard iron!
• Rising star Michael Whitehead - "How ridiculous do celebrations look with a long putter?"
• Anchored putters have now won all four majors
Nick Faldo, the only man to win two Masters in playoffs: "Augusta National is the most nerve-wracking golf course in the world."
• "I'm psyched the cute boy won," said every hot chick everywhere.
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.