Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Greatest Masters Ever

Starting in 1964, when I was four years old and too young to care one way or another, every 11 years there has been an historic Masters.

That year, Arnold Palmer won his fourth green jacket in dominating fashion, with a six-stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus and Dave Marr. Though seemingly at the top of his game, it would prove to be the final major tournament ever won by Palmer.

In 1986, Jack Nicklaus stunned the world by capturing his sixth green jacket, with a miraculous back nine on the final day which lifted him above such international superstars as Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. As commentator Ben Wright put it when Ballesteros put his third shot into the water on 15, "The foreign legion is reeling under the onslaught of the Bear." (That may not be an exact quote, but it's close).

And in 1997, a young skinny guy named Tiger Woods did whatever is beyond stunning the world by obliterating the field, capturing his first green jacket and major tournament with a victory so dominant that it essentially led to the demise of Augusta National as we once knew it, as the inevitable (and fruitless) process of annual "Tiger-proofing" began. But it's still a wonderful course, and the greatest tournament in the game, in large part because of familiarity with the course. If there is a golf fan out there who can't sum up a visual picture of each hole on the back nine, then I would question whether that person is really a golf fan.

But my favorite Masters, and the one I would still nominate as the greatest ever, took place in 1975. That year, Nicklaus captured his fifth green jacket, in a breathless duel on the final day with Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, both of whom were at the top of their game. At the time, I was one of the biggest Nicklaus fans in the world. Not only did I want him to win every week, but I wanted everyone else to fail, and miserably. Guys like Palmer, Player, and Weiskopf I could stand, but there was a special strand of hatred that I saved for Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. I've long since gotten over it, but back then, I just wanted to see those two suffer on the course. The more balls in the rough or the water, the better.

And so now we arrive at 2008, which means that something special should be coming up in a couple of weeks. I've got a long streak going here, and I'll be disappointed if it comes to an end. I'm thinking maybe a Woods-Mickelson playoff, after both have shot 64 on the final day? That would just about do it.

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