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The Masters - Pretentious & Powerful
There is nothing quite like the Masters to signal the onset of spring. There's also nothing quite like the apparently unavoidable obsession of writers and broadcasters to instantaneously shift into cliché overdrive at the first sign of hallowed Augusta National.
And then . . . cue the soothing sound of acoustic guitar strings . . . the hackneyed phrases start rolling off tongues like promises from presidential candidates:
The glorious ride down Magnolia Lane.
The dazzling azaleas and dogwoods in full bloom.
The regal Georgia pines.
A fawning, whispering Jim Nantz making it seem as though stepping onto the precious fairways is like being invited into the boudoir of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.
The Masters is so about buzzwords and tradition. Butler Cabin. Amen Corner. The Eisenhower Tree. Hogan's Bridge. Rae's Creek. The patrons (not fans). The par-3 tournament.
Don't get me wrong; it is golf's greatest event and I eagerly look forward to planting myself on the couch for four days, beginning at dawn Thursday morning with the ceremonial first tee shots by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, and culminating in the often-awkward green jacket ceremony late Sunday afternoon.
The Masters is always a charismatic tournament, if that adjective can be applied to an event held by a club of well-heeled, entitled, pompous men parading around in flamboyant green coats that should be priced at 75 percent off at your local thrift shop. (Of course, I'd feel entirely differently if I were invited into their elite circle and wore one.)
But it hasn't always produced charismatic champions. For every Tiger Woods, there's been a Trevor Immelman. For every Nicklaus, a Charles Coody. For every Palmer, a Jack Burke. I mean, come on, Charl Schwartzel won two years ago, and he's lacking magnetism and a vowel or two.
When it does produce the expected drama, we never forget it. Most people's list of the top-10 Masters in history begins with Nicklaus's triumph at age 46 in 1986. Battling Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Tom Watson down the stretch, the Golden Bear - decked out in a canary-yellow shirt - shot 30 on the back nine for a closing 65 to steal the tournament away from his younger competitors.
I prefer another Nicklaus win, this one coming in 1975. Jack drained a bomb on the 16th hole and then watched as Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf missed putts on 18 that would have forced a playoff. And I'll always remember Ben Crenshaw's poignant, unanticipated victory in 1995 just days after his mentor, Harvey Penick, passed away.
Of course, for pure relief at having finally done it, there was Phil Mickelson's birdie-inducing leap on the 18th green that secured his first major in 2004.
Here's a topic for golf nuts to debate at the 19th hole: the greatest shots in Masters history. Well, at least after Gene Sarazen's double-eagle in 1935.
Larry Mize's astonishing pitch-in to steal the Masters from Norman in 1987 ranks right up there. As does Tiger's brilliant chip from off the 16th green in 2005 that dangled tantalizingly before tumbling into the hole as though brushed by a feather from the golfing gods. And let's not forget Mickelson's audacious 6-iron from the pine straw that squeezed between two Georgia pines, sailed over Rae's Creek and settled onto the 13th green in 2010, leading to his third green jacket.
Bubba Watson added to the lore in last year's playoff with his hooking wedge from deep in the woods to beat Louis Oosthuizen (who, on the par-5 second hole in Sunday's final round, carded only the fourth albatross in Masters' history) on the second sudden-death playoff hole.
But the Masters is also about heartbreak. The ghostly look of despair on Norman's face after Mize pitched in. Roberto De Vicenzo signing an incorrect scorecard in 1968 and then uttering the famous words, "What a stupid I am!" Kenny Perry, despite leading by two shots with three holes to go, was unable to get the job done in 2009. Scott Hoch's missed two-footer in 1989 which forced him into a playoff with Nick Faldo that he lost. Norman's epic collapse in 1996 to hand Faldo his third Masters title.
All these things are why I love the Masters, despite its pretentious personality. It comes to us at the perfect time of year from a perfectly pristine venue, and it takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, giving us compelling moments and storylines that last a lifetime.
Cue the guitar strings. I'm ready for 2013.
Rob Duca is an award-winning sports columnist who wrote for the Cape Cod Times for 25 years, covering golf, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins. He is now managing editor of Golf & Leisure Cape Cod magazine and has written for a variety of other publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, Yankee magazine and Cape Cod Life.