After an incredible weekend of golf at Augusta National, the 2012 Masters Tournament has proven that you don’t need Tiger Woods to make the PGA exciting again. Here are some of the Tiger-less storylines from this past weekend:
- Bubba Watson: The longest driver on the PGA tour (check out this 360-yard MONSTER), a member of The Golf Boys, and one of the few on tour that can be considered a true “natural” player, Watson has stepped up his game significantly over the last year or so. He’s lost weight and learned to control his short game in addition to having command of that big pink driver. This Masters tournament leaderboard always had Watson’s name near the top of the list, but it wasn’t until the last few holes that it become clear that the real head-to-head would be Bubba and his pair-of-the-day, Louis Oosterhuizen. So close was this matchup that it went to a sudden death playoff. Watson’s most recent major playoff experience in 2010 was something he’d been looking to forget. Both players parred the first hole (#18) and drove wide right on the second hole (#10). Oosterhuizen hit his second shot before Bubba and fell short of the green by a few yards. Watson was forced to hit a massive hook shot from the trees that landed 15 feet from the pin. He ended up winning the green jacket, capturing his first PGA Major Championship, and was greeted by his close friends (and other members of The Golf Boys) Ricky Fowler, Ben Crane, and Hunter Mahan.
- Louis Oosterhuizen: A South African native and best friend of 2011 Masters Champion Charles Schwartzel, Louis wanted nothing more than for his good friend to be the one to put the green jacket on him. He got his incredible final round going with one of the greatest shots in golf history: an Albatross (Double Eagle) on Hole #2, Pink Dogwood. Unfortunately, he could not finish strong and do what his fellow South African golfer and PGA legend Gary Player did at Augusta 51 years ago: win a green jacket.
- Phil Mickelson: In the wake of his wife and his mother’s recent cancer diagnoses, Phil returned to the PGA tour after taking a break to be with his family in 2010. He started off that year by winning his third Masters Championship, a comeback sparked by an amazing Lefty-esque recovery shot on the last hole of Amen Corner, #13. He had a great third round this year and was one shot back from the leader, but after an atrocious triple bogey on #4, hope seemed all but lost. But Phil did what he does best, he pulled himself out a tough spot and climbed his way up the leaderboard with smart play on the remaining front nine and aggressive approaches on the back nine. He tied for second place and has finished top-10 at the Masters in 12 of the last 14 years.
- Lee Westwood: The best way to describe Westwood is to call him the Peyton Manning of the PGA. Just like before Manning won his Superbowl, no one doubts that Westwood will one day win a PGA Major championship. He was the one to topple Tiger Woods record-setting reign at World #1 in 2010, and between 2008 and 2011, Westwood finished top-10 in 7 of 16 PGA Major Tournaments (6 of those were top-3). He was leading this Masters group after 2 days of play and despite solid striking in the last few rounds, he failed to capitalize on some longer birdie chances and finished tied for third. But don’t worry, he’ll get that Major soon enough.
- Fred Couples: Ah, good ol’ Freddie. He took up the “Old Timer that the fans root for” position typically attributed to Tom Watson. He was one off the leader after Friday’s round and had his best 18 holes at Augusta, even better than when he won his first green jacket (and only major) back in 1992. He was showing the young guns that those guys on the Champions (read: Senior) Golf Tour can still compete using consistent chipping and pitching, conservative play on holes with tough pin placement, and using “conventional memory” to not let errors affect future holes.
So how did Tiger actually do? He failed to capitalize on Augusta’s par-5’s (some of the easiest holes on the course), he struggled with his mid-iron shots (including this frustrating Friday shot on 16), and was never poised to make a good run at the leaderboard. There are significant positives, though. Any veteran will tell you that the key to cutting strokes off your game is to keep control of your chipping, pitching, and putting. Tiger’s short game was spot on this week.
In fact, he made some flat-out amazing puts this weekend, but most of them happened to be for par. Why is this good news? People say that the main reason why Tiger’s game “just isn’t what it used to be” is because of his short game. Before his personal troubles, his short game was the stuff of legend. He could putt the ball with near-telekinetic control and has made some chip-shots that will live on long after he is too old to pick up a club. So as long as he can control his driver and mid-irons, Tiger’s got a great shot at becoming a Major winner again.
Tiger will be back, I have no doubt about that. In fact, I’m pretty certain we’ll see him sporting another green jacket before all is said and done. But there’s no need to wait for him to come back to watch the PGA. There’s already captivating sports stories being told every weekend. Besides, I didn’t even mention the second-youngest (behind Tiger) and current world number-1, Rory McIlroy…