Never before had a Masters opened with Augusta National's image in such disrepair. For 10 months women's rights activist Martha Burk had been hacking away at the club's meticulously maintained veneer; come tournament time she seemed to have even Mother Nature on her side. A week of relentless rain turned the pristine grounds into a shoe-sucking bog, forcing the postponement of last Thursday's opening round and sending grounds-keepers scurrying for their notoriously pungent drying agent. The doors opened on Friday to crowds eager for a whiff of spring. They were greeted by the pervasive odor of dung. The 2003 Masters literally stunk.
By the time Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson held his annual press conference, on April 9, there was no shortage of columnists and congresswomen revved up by the prospect of making the club's high-powered membership squirm. By mishandling Burk's pressure tactics from the beginning, Johnson had allowed her to frame the debate, diminishing this year's tournament and wreaking damage to the club's image that will take years to repair.
While the odds are good that the 2003 Masters will be remembered more for Martha Burk than for Mike Weir, the sideshow can't last forever. Indeed, by Saturday, when Tiger made a charge and Weir seemed to lose his grip and Maggert seized the lead, the action on the golf course had once again become the center of attention.
When Woods teed off for Friday's 36-hole trek, it was clear he'd been thrown off his game, be it by the weather or the general messiness surrounding this year's tournament. A pair of ragged chip shots on the 1st hole forced him to make a 40-foot chip to save bogey, and having to wait at the tee boxes couldn't have helped him build the kind of momentum he needed. He came within a stroke of missing the cut for the first time in 103 tournaments, but he followed that up with an electrifying 66 that grabbed everyone's attention and set the stage for Sunday's drama.
Woods's woes returned on the 3rd hole on Sunday, when he committed the worst strategic error he's ever made in a major. The previous day's heroics had lifted him from 43rd to fifth on the leader board, and he yearned to mount another early charge. After missing an eagle putt on number 2 and having to settle for birdie, he was overeager and primed for a fall. The tee box at the par-4 3rd had been moved 20 yards forward on Sunday, leaving a distance of 330 yards to the hole and tempting Woods to go for the green. He brought out his driver. The trap sprang shut. Woods's tee shot flew far right into the trees and pine straw, coming to rest beside a clump of azaleas and forcing him to punch out left-handed, with his clubhead inverted. Within minutes he had double-bogeyed, dropped to 10th place and kissed all hope for a third straight Masters goodbye. Afterward he criticized his caddie, Steve Williams, for encouraging him to hit driver. (He quickly added, "Ultimately it's the player's call.")
By then Woods was left only to drape this year's green jacket over Weir's shoulders, tell him "Good job" and smile graciously as someone else walked away with $1 million. Woods hasn't won a major in his last three attempts, and it's hardly comforting for him to know that victories like Weir's can only give heart to players daunted by his focus and will. This year's amateur sensation, 22-year-old Arizona senior Ricky Barnes, captivated Masters purists by outplaying and outdriving Woods on the first 36 holes, then went on to shoot a three-over 291. Weir, meanwhile, never forgot how Woods maintained his composure to take that PGA tide from him at Medinah in 1999, and he used die experience to retool his on-course mentality. "Outside the gates, with the weather and everything, it's been a bit of a hectic week," Weir said. "But I didn't pay much attention to that. I was here to play."
So was Mattiace, and he did so beautifully through 72 holes. It had been 15 years since he was a college junior, playing in the Masters as an amateur, and until last weekend he seemed destined to struggle in obscurity. It took Mattiace three years to qualify for the PGA Tour, and when he finally did, in 1993, he promptly lost his card for another two. He rejoined the Tour in '96 but didn't win until last year, when he broke through at Riviera and Memphis. "I just kept trying my best, trying hard, trying to improve: just keep going," Mattiace said. "This is a crazy game, you know?"
Indeed. On Sunday, Mattiace—a natural lefthander, wouldn't you know?—played the round of his life, passing Maggert, Weir, Vijay Singh, Woods, Mickelson and Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal, completing the climb from eighth to first with a stunning eagle on the par-5 13di. He emerged from Amen Corner with the course in a headlock, then tightened his grip by going eight under with back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16.
Then, as quickly as that mastery had come, it vanished. On 18 Mattiace needed par to all but clinch his victory, but he drove into the trees on the right, had to punch out and was left with an 80-yard nine-iron, which he flew to the back of the green. He stared at 35 feet of green and froze. "It looked like ice to me," he said. He left the putt eight feet short, and his bogey dropped him back to seven under. Weir, three holes behind, immediately countered with a birdie on 15 to tie, then polished off that seven-footer on 18 to force the playoff. Two shots later Mattiace was finished.
While Weir was getting acclimated to the idea of himself as Masters champion, Mattiace, despondent, was left to ride away in a cart, a second-place finisher who'd had his chance and may never come this close again.