I’ll remember the 2020 pandemic Masters for more than Dustin Johnson’s record-setting victory; it was one of the classiest moments in Tiger Woods’s legendary career.
Woods strolled to the par-3, 148-yard 12th hole at 3 under on Sunday, with no chance to win. His tee shot spun off the green and into the water. He went to the drop area and hit it into the water again. He sailed one into the back bunker, and from a difficult lie, rinsed another Bridgestone. When he left the 12th green, he had posted a 10, easily the highest number he has shot on one hole in his major championship history.
He didn’t spit in the cup, as a petulant Sergio Garcia has done; he didn’t throw a club, as Jon Rahm is prone to do; he didn’t throw a hissy-fit, a la Bubba Watson; and he didn’t make excuses, like Bryson DeChambeau.
With nothing to play for — Woods has a lifetime exemption into the Masters — he birdied five of his last six holes to finish the tournament most associated with his historic accomplishments at 1 under, in the red, his preferred color on Sunday.
“Well, I committed to the wrong wind,” he told CBS’s Amanda Balionis during an interview after his round of 76, which left him in a tie for 38th.
Woods’s win at Augusta in 1997 was historic; he won a major on a broken knee; even last year’s victory at the Masters was considered by some the greatest comeback story in golf history, although Tiger disagreed. “One of the greatest comebacks in all of sports is the gentleman who won here, Mr. Hogan,” Woods said after he won the Masters in a stunner in 2019. “I mean, he got hit by a bus and came back and won major championships.”
Woods, now an elder statesman in the game, has never showed more character, win or lose. Put Sunday’s comeback on a list of his great comebacks. (Note to DeChambeau: It’s called not giving up, no matter how you feel.)
Other takeaways from the final major of the COVID-19 season:
▪ Johnson was understandably emotional after capturing his first green jacket and the second major of his estimable career. I can’t help but think Brooks Koepka’s stinging comments before the final round of the 2020 PGA Championship, in which DJ shared the lead, has fueled Johnson’s fire. (Koepka said Johnson was not a good closer.)
For the record, the major championship score this season is Johnson 1, Loudmouth 0.
▪ Before the Masters, DeChambeau put a ridiculous and unnecessary amount of pressure on his well-rounded shoulders by saying Augusta was playing as a par 67 for him — a reference to how he thought he would dominate the par 5s.
The golf gods were listening.
DeChambeau doubled the par-5 13th in the first round and although he played the par 5s in 9 under for the week, the other 14 holes were a bit more difficult for him. He made 11 bogeys, two doubles, and a triple for the week. DJ had just four bogeys all week, a record for a Masters champ.
Is anyone else sick of Big D’s excuses? He isn’t feeling well? He’s 27 and consumes 5,000 calories a day, tirelessly pushing his body to extremes. Bernhard Langer is 63 and the oldest player to make the cut at the Masters. Any 60-year-old will tell you that everything aches when you hit that age. Going head-to-head in the same threesome on Sunday, Langer (-3) beat DeChambeau (-2). Only at the Masters. I have Langer in a sit-up contest, too.
▪ Does it look like Phil Mickelson is done? Only four players to make the cut finished worse than Lefty, who grinded to a 79-73 weekend. Mickelson, 50, is 2 for 2 on the Champions Tour. Just saying.
▪ DJ laid up on both par 5s on the back nine. It was smart course management with a three-shot lead, which he made five shots by the time he putted out on No. 15. He certainly is playing and thinking like a different golfer.
▪ Sungjae Im is a fairways machine. Last year’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year shared the B flight title with Cameron Smith, at 15 under. Smith hit only 64 percent of the fairways for the week (36 of 56); Im hit 82 percent (46 of 56).
▪ Smith became the first player in Masters history to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
▪ One sobering thought: Johnson (36), Webb Simpson (35), and Rory McIlroy (31) are the only players in the top 10 over the age of 30.
▪ It’s November and we’re in a pandemic, and it will likely never happen, but two PGA events at Augusta wouldn’t be the worst thing for golf, would it? Better yet, how about an LPGA major at Augusta National?
Jim Hoban can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.