With apologies to the three other "major" golfing events of the year, nothing quite matches up to the prestige and excitement of a Thursday through Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club during what I believe is the most prestigious golf tournament on Earth. Period.
The Masters is special. It just is. Unique among the major tournaments, it is played on the same course every year, which has to be the best maintained facility of its kind you will ever see. For some reason, the grass is just a little greener, the sand in the bunkers just a little whiter, and even the sky seems a tad bluer at Augusta National, a hallowed place that most of us mere mortals will never even set foot on, much less play.
Okay, maybe I am a little biased, as I do live in Georgia, but Masters week, second only to Christmas, is my favorite time of the year. The tournament itself is always fun and interesting to watch, no matter the outcome, and far more often than not extremely exciting, and at times, breathtakingly so. This year was no different. In fact, it was the best in my memory.
Normally, I like this tournament to come down to the last putt on the 18th hole, or better yet a playoff, such as there was last year, but even though Phil Mickelson won it with a comfortable 3 shot lead over the rest of the field, this was still the best Masters tournament I have ever witnessed.
Mickelson made his move on Saturday, which is traditionally referred to as "moving day," when he went on a remarkable eagle run on the 13th and 14th holes, and came within about a foot or so of getting yet a third on the 15th. He finished out the third round with a very respectable 67 for the day.
He started off on Sunday playing somewhat flatly, as he neither helped nor hurt himself until reaching the 6th hole and finally scoring a birdie. He picked up another birdie at the 12th, then drove his subsequent tee shot into the woods to the right of the fairway.
In what has to be one of the gutsiest shots I have seen at Augusta, he went right for the pin with his second shot, which made the green and left him with the opportunity for his second eagle in two days on the same hole.
He missed the eagle putt and walked off the 13th green with a 'mere' birdie, but I was pretty sure by that point the green jacket was his to lose. He went on to birdie 15 and 18 for a bogey-free round of 67, which tied his scores on both Thursday and Saturday, and putting him three shots ahead of Lee Westwood, who had started the day as the leader.
Fifty year-old Fred Couples, one of my all time favorite players, and who had inspired us middle-aged guys by firing a first round 66, found himself in contention on Sunday as well, but began to fade late in the round. I hated to see it happen, as he would have been the oldest player to ever win a major. Fred finished all alone in 6th place. Not too shabby.
Tom Watson, also one of my favorites who I had grown up watching, raised a lot of eyebrows by posting a 67 on Thursday, but was unable to break 70 for the next three rounds, but still walked off the 18th green on Sunday at -1 for the tournament. Not bad for a man of sixty. Not bad at all.
There were a lot of other great moments, as well, too numerous to mention here, but I will long remember this as the best and most exciting Masters I have ever seen - until one comes along that is even better.
Sure, I'll watch the other three majors, along with a lot of regular events this year, but it just won't be quite the same. Something will be missing - whatever it is that makes a Masters special, be it the action, the course, the mystery, or event he intrigue of that wonderful, almost mystical place known as Augusta National.
And like most other Masters fanatics, I'll be not-so-patiently counting down the days until April 6th, 2011, when they gather to play it all over again.
Photo credit: telegraph.co.uk