A messy Masters and a beautiful finish
AUGUSTA — Maybe winning really does take care of everything.
For Augusta National, sizing up Adam Scott for his own green jacket was a beautiful way to end what had been shaping as a messy Masters.
The lasting image was Scott arching his back with both arms thrust in the air after he made a 12-foot birdie putt in the playoff, not European Tour chief referee John Paramor explaining to 14-year-old Guan Tianlang why he was being docked one shot for slow play.
An Australian in a green jacket – especially Adam Scott, the most popular first-time major champion since Phil Mickelson – should be far more memorable than Tiger Woods holding out his arm to take an illegal drop on the 15th hole. Listening to Scott so graciously pay homage to Australian golf great Greg Norman was much better than hearing Fred Ridley give a tutorial on Rule 33-7.
And one more thing.
Winning might take care of any doubts to outlaw the anchored stroke for long putters, like the one Scott pressed against his chest when he sank the two biggest putts of his career – a 20-footer on the 18th hole that got him into the playoff, and the 12-footer on the 10th hole to win in overtime over Angel Cabrera.
The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient are expected to announce shortly whether they will go ahead with the ban on anchoring, which would start in 2016. They say the proposed rule is to define what a golf stroke should be, and that they have no empirical evidence to suggest anyone has an advantage.
Results shouldn’t count, either, especially the fact that Scott’s win gave long putters the career Grand Slam.
Four of the last six major champions have used the long putter, starting with Keegan Bradley in the 2011 PGA Championship. Supporters of the ban would call that a trend. Opponents could argue it’s a small sample.
Of course, to suggest that Scott gained an advantage by using the longer putter would be to overlook that he didn’t make a putt longer than 4 feet from the third hole of the final round until that birdie putt on the 18th curled in the back of the cup. If he had, Scott might have won by five shots. That’s how well he struck the ball in the rain on Sunday.
It also would overlook the final four holes of the British Open last summer, when Scott missed par putts on all of them that cost him the claret jug. Was the long putter an advantage at Augusta but not at Lytham?
Geoff Ogilvy summed it up nicely last summer when he said of Scott’s long putter, “It just makes his bad days better. It doesn’t make his good days better.”
Then again, Scott never seriously contended in a major championship until after he switched to the long putter at the 2011 Match Play Championship. He tied for second at the Masters that year. He now has finished among the top 15 in the last six majors, including his win at the Masters.
Maybe it was just a coincidence, but the last question to Scott in his press conference was about the long putter. He then went through a hole-by-hole description of his round – the 9-iron he hit for his second shot on the 505-yard 11th hole; the wedge he hit for his second shot on the 440-yard 14th.
“You knew my feeling on it all, that it was inevitable that big tournaments would be won with this equipment,” Scott said. “These are the best players in the world, and they practice thousands of hours. They are going to get good with whatever they are using.”
Scott fears that the USGA and R&A already have made up their minds. USGA president Glen Nager took part in a youth initiative last week at Augusta. He declined to say anything about long putters because the decision is pending.
“We are all waiting to hear what’s going to happen,” Scott said. “I don’t know that this is going to impact any decisions at all.”
He’s right about that. Closing statements were made in February when the PGA Tour, along with the PGA of America, weighed in with their objections to the proposed rule, while the European Tour and LPGA Tour did not object. Scott winning the Masters is not enough to stop jury deliberations to present more evidence.
Besides, if the governing bodies were looking to build their case at Augusta, they would have settled on Guan. The Chinese teenager started using a belly putter about six months before he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur to earn a spot in the Masters. The fear is that more kids will start using anchored strokes under the best instruction, and it won’t be long before conventional putters go the way of the 1-iron.
Carl Pettersson has used a long putter his entire PGA Tour career. He played in the last group at the PGA Championship. He finished dead last at the Masters. Ernie Els, who won the British Open with a belly putter, couldn’t hit the hole from 3 feet when he lost in the Match Play. There are no good answers in this debate.
So in the meantime, let’s not lose sight of the finish while it’s still fresh.
There had never been a Masters where two players made birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff. Cabrera’s 7-iron into the 18th should not be forgotten, nor should the way the burly Argentine smiled so genuinely and pulled Scott toward him for a warm hug on the 10th green when it was over.
Golf will get messy again soon enough.
We’re still awaiting word from the PGA Tour, perhaps by the end of the month, on whether Vijay Singh will be punished for admitting he took deer antler spray, which is said to contain a banned substance under the anti-doping policy.
The next time a round takes well over five hours, everyone will gripe about how slow play is killing the game. Yet when a penalty is called, there’s an outrage that it was assessed against the wrong guy. Guan was a wonderful story. He turned in a remarkable performance. But he’s slow. He was warned. And he deserved the penalty.
As for Woods’ drop, more at fault for not knowing the rules was Ridley, the chairman of the Masters’ competition committees. He didn’t recognize the violation watching on video, and that’s OK. But it’s the Masters. It’s Tiger Woods. Even a hint of doubt – a hint – should have been enough to at least talk to Woods before he signed his card. Woods was not disqualified because Augusta felt it should have talked to him. That’s what Rule 33-7 covers, and there is precedence.
Woods looked like the best player in the world until his shot hit the pin on the 15th hole of the second round and bounced into the water, eventually leading to a triple bogey with the penalty.
Ultimately, what should be remembered about this Masters is the right guy won.
For all the right reasons.