They held a masters-bashing party in Augusta last week, and a funny thing happened. The Masters bashed back. Lee Trevino burned rubber down Magnolia Lane and said he didn't want to be invited back. Fuzzy Zoeller ripped Augusta National as if it were a par-3 muni. Even the tournament chairman, Hord Hardin, stewed about the future of the Masters.
Guess what? None of it mattered. The Masters simply went out and did what it does better than any tournament in the world. It produced marvelous golf and a worthy champion—Sandy Lyle, a Scotsman with a runny nose, ticklish toes and a seven-iron that practically glows.
Late Sunday afternoon Lyle pulled out that seven-iron and coldcocked disaster. Stuck in a bunker on the 18th fairway, 143 yards from the pin, he needed a par to save a tie with Mark Calcavecchia and force a playoff. But a par from the trap was a lousy bet. The 18th green is deadly enough when you're hitting from a perfect lie, and the final-round pin placement required putting the second shot on the lower tier of a wickedly quick surface.
Who would expect Lyle to come through, anyway? Hadn't he coughed up the lead midway through the final round? Hadn't he turned Amen Corner into Dead Man's Curve with a bogey on No. 11, an in-the-water double bogey on 12 and an ugly par—as bad as a bogey—on the par-5 13th? And didn't he know a Scotsman had never won the Masters? Wasn't his nickname Sleepy for his lackadaisical attitude on the course? Did anybody expect him to come through from that bunker?
Maybe only Lyle and his trusty seven-iron, the club he had used in birdieing the 9th and 16th holes on Sunday. Lyle drew it again to hit the shot of the tournament, the shot of the year so far, a shot every bit as improbable as the chip Larry Mize made to win the Masters in 1987. Lyle's sand shot practically ripped the cloth off the flagstick before landing one foot below the start of the second tier. The ball stopped and then rolled slowly back down the hill toward the pin, to within 20 feet, to 15, finally to 10.
Then Lyle stepped up to that downhill putt. Across the way, in the Jones cabin, traditional Masters rest stop for the angst-ridden, Calcavecchia, who had completed his round minutes earlier, was watching. He had fought Lyle with sticks in his hand, but a remote-control clicker wasn't much help now.
Could Lyle sink this? No player in the last pairing had come to the 18th green knowing he needed a birdie to win and then gone ahead and gotten it since Arnold Palmer did so in 1960. Sleepy? In Arnie's class? Lyle had won the Greater Greensboro Open the week before, but nobody had won there and at the Masters in the same year since Sam Snead in '49. And nobody had won two weeks in a row on the parity-plagued PGA Tour since Bernhard Langer won the Masters and the Heritage in 1985.
Watching in the tournament office was Hardin, who had been fighting his own battles during the week. For a tournament nearly everybody is dying to get an invitation to, a lot of people were talking about just saying no next year. Even Hardin fretted publicly the day before the tournament began that players would stay away because the Masters prize money doesn't equal Donald Trump's passbook account. For instance, the first prize at last year's Nabisco Schlockarama Classic was $360,000, or nearly twice the Masters' $183,800 first prize.
"It worries the hell out of me," said Hardin of the incursion of corporate money into golf. "I don't visualize us having the Pizza Hut Masters." And now, Mr. Nicklaus, I have the great pleasure of presenting you with the traditional green Masters apron.
Come on, Mr. Chairman. Playing the Masters for the money is akin to buying an Aston Martin for the cigarette lighter. It's nice, but there's more to it than that. One player even called Hardin's musings "the stupidest statement I've ever heard."