There's no doubt I could have written a half-dozen columns about the epic week at Augusta National. From the Hall of Fame leaderboard, to masters.com blowing me away, to the fact I'll trade the televised par-three tournament for just about anything else golf-related, there's so much to say about the highlight of the golfing calendar.
They say the Masters doesn't begin until the last nine holes on Sunday. So in honor of that great Augusta truism, I present the nine things I learned from the 2010 Masters.
One: As a Mickelson Fan, I Prepare For Heartbreak
I woke up Sunday morning excited yet apprehensive. There are only so many times you can watch as your guy hands it away. It's to the point that sometime in the past two years I began to hold a grudge and my empathy has turned to scorn on occasion. It's like rooting for a football team with as much talent as anyone in the league, only to see one failure after another, for one reason or another. Throughout Sunday afternoon, I was waiting for the missed two-footer, or one of those stray tee balls to nestle against a tree, leading to a triple bogey. Ever since Winged Foot, it's become less about anticipating the excitement, and more about fearing the failure. Hopefully this finish will help replace the feeling of dread with a fresh batch of unbridled optimism.
Two: The Thrill Lies in the Gamble
I've written in this space how bored I am of certain golfers. Laying up into all the par fives, playing to the fat of the greens to preserve a one-shot lead, or simply lacking the swagger and pizzazz to stir the crowds. As Mickelson set up to hit his shot on 13, I screamed at the TV, "Don't do this, Phil! … Why do you always have to do this … Are you an id …" and before I could spit out the "iot?!?," the ball was in flight and it was being heralded as the "shot of his lifetime." He made me eat the words I hadn't even gotten out, and if that's not exciting, I'm not sure what is.
Three: Augusta is Built For the Roars
When Tiger Woods stormed onto the Masters stage, he rumpled lots of green jackets with the way he rendered their course obsolete with his birdie barrages. True to human nature, they overreacted, stretched the course, decided even par was better than 15-under, and sucked the juice out of Sundays. Bad weather and some other factors didn't help, but it's clear after this week - guys can go low, but guys can also blow up. The Masters doesn't need to mimic the U.S. Open. It should be, and has returned to being, the ultimate risk-reward major of them all.
Four: In 40 Years, Don't Expect Tiger-Phil Thursday Morning
A big deal was made of Arnie and Jack starting the tournament, and ESPN and CBS used the footage every day. I'm a sucker for golf history, and think it's great to see those guys get along so well. By all accounts, in their prime there was no love loss between the two. But trying to flash forward a few decades, I just can't see Tiger and Phil moseying up to the first tee to swat a drive and start the week. It's less about failing to imagine them in ceremonial roles, and more about wondering how two such obviously different people could get along. But 40 years is a long time from now, so who knows.
Five: I Can Do Without the Par-Three Tourney
I'm a sucker for golf history and tradition, and found myself watching the broadcast of the par 3 tournament, but I hate to say it's already passé after just three years. The Palmer-Nicklaus-Player pairing was fun in the past but this time felt like we've been there, done that. Watching those guys hit mulligans throughout their nine felt cheap. And while Arnie's putt on the final hole was really fun, it doesn't take a rocket scientist after three years to realize they've got that green set up like a funnel. And as much as I'm sure it's a thrill for the kids, the novelty of watching 8-year-olds putt has worn off for me as a viewer. I'm certain it's a fantastic event to watch in person, but from a TV viewer's perspective, it's just not doing it for me.
Six: The Online Experience Blew Me Away
For so long, the knock on the Masters was how restrictive Augusta National was with TV coverage. They allowed barely any cameras on the front nine, and only a couple hours of broadcast time. As opposed to the other majors where you can watch up to nine hours of coverage a day, ESPN and CBS still don't have that option. But where people might accuse Augusta of being stuck in the past in many areas (for better or worse), they're blazing new trails on the Web. Not only did masters.com offer a live HD feed that rivals my cable provider in terms of quality, it started early, and offered the chance to watch televised golf in a whole new way. Between the Featured Group, Amen Corner and 15&16 channels, it let you be your own director, and avoid a lot of the choppiness that can come with trying to track too many players at once. One blemish, however, was the fact they chose Thursday's "featured group" of Mike Weir, Lee Westwood and Matteo Manassero and failed to use that channel to follow either Woods or Mickelson.
Seven: For All the Talk, Tiger's Still Tiger
I think it was when he responded to a question Thursday with the answer, "I'm here to play a golf tournament" that I decided all the press conferences, apologies and interviews were a load of crap. Forget redemption or rehabilitation, it was right back to "just win, baby." Early in the week I gave Tiger the benefit of the doubt, enjoyed hearing how he was far more fan friendly, liked when he said he could appreciate the warm response. I even said that maybe hitting bottom would help Tiger come back more humble, respectful and warm. He dashed those hopes early and often. Not only with his antics on the course (personally I don't care if he tell himself he sucks, but a lot of people do, and he vowed to clean up his act), but also in his response to post-round questions. Monday's press conference held so much promise, with Tiger saying all the right things, seeming fallible and ready to make amends. By Sunday, his dismissive tone in interviews and disgust at having to answer for his behavior tell me his sense of entitlement and aloof attitude were only in hiding.
Eight: If it's an Act, it's a Good One
The biggest knock on Phil is that he's a phony and tries too hard to be adored. So when the pictures surfaced of him wearing his green jacket, in the car with the kids, at the drive through of a Krispy Kreme, I thought, "why on earth is he wearing the jacket." Until I thought about what it must have felt like to be one of his kids, and how fun it must have been to trot your dad - the Masters champ - around to all the normal, real life places a dad would take his kids on a lazy Monday morning. As one vocal anti-Phil guy put it: Still think he's a bit phony, but hey, if being a super-nice fan favorite is an act, there are worse things you could be (thanks Iacas).
Nine: If You Wanted Good Defeats Evil, You Got It
Since Thanksgiving, it's been hard to escape the talk of Tiger's transgressions. I thought was telling that Elin wanted no part of him or Augusta as her husband made a grand return to public life. But the real dagger in the heart must have been not only seeing his nemesis win the golf tournament, but having to watch as Phil embraced his ailing wife behind the 18th green. Mickelson's win meant so much on so many levels. He overcame the ghosts of Winged Foot. He not only didn't falter on the back 9 Sunday, he put the pedal to the medal. And he talked all week about how special it was to have his family with him. You'd have to think it would have a profound effect on Tiger Woods. At least I hope it did.