Gary Van Sickle's final thoughts on 2009 Masters
AUGUSTA, Ga. The 73rd Masters is now in my rearview mirror. Warning: Objects may be larger than they appear. Here's what I'll remember about Masters week, not including the most gorgeous weather in years:
• Before the three-man playoff began, I was ready to order a copy of the highlights DVD. There was the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson undercard with great tension, an early move by Steve Flesch (again!) and all of the leaders battling their nerves. Then came Kenny Perry's costly finish, followed by an even sadder playoff. At this point, I'm not sure I even want to watch it again. Wait, I am sure. I don't want to.
• I can't decide whether Angel Cabrera is a great champion for overcoming adversity and never giving up, or the luckiest Masters playoff victor since Nick Faldo. The Duck appeared to shank a long-iron shot from the eighth fairway. (If it wasn't a pure shank, it was at least a hosel rocket.) Then, in the playoff, he drove into the trees. Spectators couldn't get to his ball, but it appeared on TV that he had no shot. He tried to go right of the tree that was blocking him, which was potentially the dumbest important shot any player has tried in a major since Mickelson's second on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in 2006. Four times out of five, Cabrera makes a six. But this time it ricocheted into the 18th fairway and he saved par. A smart play? Well, he's got a green jacket.
• A beautiful week of golf for Perry ended badly. It's hard to fault him for that bogey on the 72nd hole, which requires a fade off the tee Perry only hits draws. But his performance on the first playoff hole has to rank with Colin Montgomerie's final hole at the '06 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Monty had an easy 7-iron in, his bread-and-butter shot, and he missed the green. Perry had 8-iron to a front-left pin perfect for his draw. He even had a backstop behind the pin; if he hit it long, it was likely to spin back to the hole. He'd hit it inside 15 feet nine out of ten times, maybe even ten out of ten. Instead, he missed the green right. He scrambled for par, but I'm sure it was a shot he'll think about for years.
• Chad Campbell's playoff collapse was just as bad, although Perry's grievous errors will ultimately overshadow Campbell's just as Mickelson's meltdown overshadowed Monty's at Winged Foot. On the first playoff hole, Campbell had a perfect drive and a wide-open green. With Cabrera and Perry in trouble, he simply needed a routine par. Instead, he flared his shot right, even worse than Perry, and into the bunker. After a pretty good recovery shot, he lipped out a near-gimme three-footer. It was a bogey, and he was out. What a shame, especially after he'd handled the pressure of Sunday's back nine so well.
• There was no Paddy Slam. Padraig Harrington was on the verge of contention until a nine on the par-5 second hole Saturday. (The highest score ever recorded there in a Masters is 10.) Paddy Slam? More like Paddy Melt.
• I will no longer criticize the World Golf Rankings because Japan's Shingo Katayama mysteriously stays in the top 50 while seeming to do very little. At the Masters, he finished ahead of Tiger, Phil and Padraig. He finished in front of everyone, in fact, except the Titanic Three. I was impressed with his gutty back nine, and I liked his theatrics. Just one thing the Village People called, and they want their hat back.
• I don't recall exactly who found the water on No. 12 years ago and prompted the famous line from then-CBS analyst Tom Weiskopf, who said, "You never, never, EVER shoot at that back-right pin on Sunday." That's information Mickelson could have used sooner. Like before he splashed that 9-iron into Rae's Creek. Phil said he wasn't greedy and wasn't going for that pin, he just made a bad swing and pulled it. Lefty still could have won, perhaps, but he didn't one-putt another green after the big splash.
• Nobody had a better bikini-less spring break than Florida State sophomore Drew Kittleson. His back nine on Friday was Mickelsonian. Kittleson holed a 6-iron shot for an eagle two at the 11th, tripled the par-3 12th, bogeyed the 13th, then drained a 30-footer for another eagle at the 15th. So he earned two pieces of Masters crystal, awarded for eagles. He shot 38 on the back with three bogeys, a triple and no birdies. He's not going to remember his awful first-round 78, but he will remember that deuce at 11, followed by his buddies outside the ropes bowing down to him. Cool.
• Who would've wagered that Steve Flesch would be on the first page of the leaderboard on the back nine Sunday for a second straight year? He holed out a wedge shot at No. 2 for an eagle that got him started. He'll still tell you his all-time Masters highlight came last year, when his 10-year-old son, Griffin, was bitten by the golf bug. Griff has the golf jones so bad, he gave up the flop shot for Lent.
• Final proof that Northern Ireland's boy wonder, Rory McIlroy, isn't going to be intimidated by Tiger or any other great players. He had a disaster of a finish Friday, going from 4 under through 15 holes to barely making the cut thanks to a four-putt double bogey at 16 and a triple bogey at 18. After he left the golf course, he got a call from Fred Ridley, the head of the competition committee. Rory needed to come back to the course and watch a video of his actions in the bunker at the 18th hole. Rory said no, I didn't do anything wrong, I'm not coming back. You say no to the Masters competition head? Wow. An hour later, Ridley called again and suggested it would be in Rory's best interest to come back and watch the video. This time, Rory agreed. Upon further review, he was not assessed a penalty for testing the surface of a bunker a long and dull story about one of golf's lamest rules that you don't need to hear again.
• Gary Player, an international treasure, played his final Masters and got what he wanted. He passed his buddy Arnold Palmer in the Masters record book for most starts, 52. Now he can rest easy. He joked that if he's invited to join Palmer for the ceremonial tee shot next year, he'll work out extra hard to make sure, ha-ha, he hits it past Arnie. I don't doubt that he will, too.
• Fuzzy Zoeller deserves a tip of the hat and a little applause for deciding to call it a career at Augusta. Instead of playing until he's 70 and shooting 90, Fuz realized that the course has gotten too long and too tough for him to enjoy as a competitor. After his final round, he was teary-eyed and emotional Fuzzy the jokester has a soft side? Who knew? Pass the gin and tonic, this one's for you, Fuz.
• Please note the significance of today Monday, the day after Easter: Griffin Flesch is officially flopping again. Order is restored in the world.