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Thank you, Adam Scott of Australia, for showing us what a man with a broomstick putter and a dream can do on the wild greens of Augusta National, in fast times and in slow. Thank you, Angel Cabrera of Argentina, for showing us that you can bypass the gym by day, date extravagantly (Argentine singer/model Coki Ramirez) by night and still have yourself a Hall of Fame career. Thank you, Masters gods, for making the uphill, ridiculously hard 18th hole at Augusta National once again the giddy epicenter of the sporting world on a Sunday in April. Closing birdies by two playoff-bound golfers will do that.
Somebody had to save this 77th Masters from its deep weirdness, brought on by Tiger Woods and a collection of wildly generous green-jacketed committeemen. Scott and Cabrera stepped right up, with an assist from Guan Tianlang, Chinese wunderkind. His golf was amazing. His impressive English actually got better over the course of the week. But it was the dignity he showed in the face of a one-shot penalty he received for slow play that was downright inspiring.
"I respect the decision they made," Guan said late Friday afternoon, at a moment when the penalty shot might have meant the end of his Masters. As it turned out, he made the cut on the number, and he was the only amateur to play all four days, finishing at 12 over par. He is an eighth-grader who is not yet 14½. There are 1.3 billion people in China, where the golf boom is at least a decade old. But Guan will start a green revolution in his country. It will be televised. It will be peaceful.
Late on Masters Sunday, T-lang watched on a Butler Cabin television as Scott and Cabrera made you-cannot-be-serious birdies on the 72nd hole, Scott in the penultimate group, Cabrera in the final one. Those threes got each golfer to nine under. In darkness and rain, this unlikely twosome played a quick, perfect sudden-death playoff that Scott won on the second hole, number 10, with a birdie. He'll be coming back to Augusta for the rest of his life. (Cabrera will too; he won the 2009 Masters.) With his impeccable manners and unpretentious demeanor, the 32-year-old Scott can only improve the place. He'll wear the green well.
As for the weirdness: Remember when Woods was pathologically unweird? He is, again, the best golfer in the world, but these days, like a latter-day Phil Mickelson, you don't know what he'll do next. He began his year by missing the cut in Abu Dhabi, where he was penalized for taking improper embedded-ball relief. He has won three Tour events since then, but at the World Match Play near Tucson he showed limited interest, getting bounced in the first round. His intensity comes and goes. Prehydrant, he was never like that.
Last week Woods played beautifully, for the most part. He finished four shots out of the playoff, and he might have been in it had he made a four on Friday on the 15th hole, the short par-5 with a sloping green protected by a dark moat. Four is a score Woods has made 42 times on that hole in the 74 times he has played it in his 19 Masters appearances.
Instead, Woods hit one unlucky shot, and his greatest asset, his golfing brain, cramped up on him. To win majors you need your brain for 72 holes. Or last week, for Adam Scott, 74.
Woods pushed his tee shot right, chipped it down the fairway to an ideal layup distance (87 yards) and hit a third shot that struck the yellow fiberglass flagstick, a half inch in diameter, on the fly. His ball ricocheted into the water. That shot, which he wanted to land right and short of the hole, will have more of an afterlife than any other shot last week. The TV image of the tournament was the next one, Tiger's face up close, pain and anger coursing through it. He hurled no phlegm nor f word nor club. Maybe he should have. We all have our ways of dealing with stress.
His fourth shot was the penalty stroke for going in the water. For his fifth, Woods chose the "do-over" option after hitting into a water hazard, playing from the exact same spot again. It can be unnerving, no matter who you are. You're hitting the shot with bile in your mouth and a bad memory in your head. He didn't want to face the exact same shot. On his do-over, Woods got up and down for bogey.
In a Friday evening interview with ESPN, Woods said he dropped his ball "two yards" behind where he was originally. He didn't want to hit it too long again. The problem is that Rule 26-1a requires a player to drop his ball "as nearly as possible" to his original position. Based on the interview, Woods surely didn't realize he took a bad drop. Given that he has made that drop correctly dozens of times in his 30-year career in competitive golf (he's 37), you would think he would do it correctly on instinct alone. But he didn't, and he needed to.