Augusta, Ga. For three rounds, the Masters was vanilla, and sugar-free vanilla at that. There was no buzz to speak of, no rush of emotions, nothing that would make a person reach for something that might calm the nerves.
All that changed Sunday. I know this is going to come as a bit of a shock, but the change came about because of two gentlemen, one who goes by the nickname of Tiger and the other who swings from the wrong side of the ball.
Angel Cabrera won the tournament on the second playoff hole, and he deserves every bit of praise for holding it together while the people around him fell apart. While left-handed Phil Mickelson and surgically repaired Tiger Woods traded birdies and heartburn, Cabrera hummed along like a Volvo. OK, maybe a cranky Volvo.
There is something about seeing Woods or Mickelson making a charge, but when they’re charging like a pair of hitched horses, it’s electric. And it put a charge under Cabrera, Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry, the sentimental pick who had been plodding around Augusta National Golf Club with a long string of pars until the tournament started chugging Red Bull.
“I saw Tiger and Phil going crazy out there,” Perry said.
“You could hear it out there,” Campbell said.
The tournament came alive Sunday when Woods and Mickelson started playing like men possessed.
When Woods and Mickelson faded down the stretch, the quality of the golf eventually faded too. The excitement didn’t, but the quality did. It wasn’t long before we started seeing wayward drives that landed in sand traps, sat on pine needles or had their view blocked by trees.
Before that, Augusta was alive.
Mickelson tied a Masters front-nine record with a 6-under-par 30. He birdied six of the first eight holes. Woods, who had played three beige rounds, started rolling in putts, too, the most dramatic for an eagle on the eighth hole. The irony, he said, was that he had been awful on the practice range before the round. And it had nothing to do with his surgically repaired knee.
Both golfers had started the day seven shots off the lead. At the turn, Mickelson was one shot behind Perry, Woods four.
As the two made their way to the 16th green, the fans cheered long and hard. Greatness was walking past, and they knew it. Woods knocked in a four-foot putt for birdie to move into a tie for second at 10 under with Mickelson, a stroke behind Perry.
It was a bulldozer of a story line: The two dueling stars would trample everyone on the way to a final showdown. But as it turned out, the storyline was written on tracing paper. Mickelson pushed a five-foot birdie putt on No. 17 and settled for par, then bogeyed No. 18. Woods bogeyed the last two holes.
Ever seen an unknotted balloon fly around a room? It was kind of like that.
Cabrera, Perry and Campbell all struggled in sudden death. A bogey on the first playoff hole eliminated Campbell.
On the second playoff hole, Perry’s second shot flew far left. Cabrera’s stopped within 10 feet of the hole. The green jacket was his.
“This is the Masters,” he said. “It’s a course that you can do a lot of birdies, a lot of bogeys. A lot of magical things happen.”
This magical thing was Tiger- and Phil-aided.