The Master’s Masterful Finish 2.0

Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated –Arnold Palmer

This year’s Master’s golf championship was one for the ages. Much like the 2013 Master’s, the 2017 edition had its share of amazing shots, compelling storylines, and finished with a thrilling sudden death playoff; Arnold Palmer’s recent passing also injected an emotional element into the tournament.

Palmer’s memory took center stage at the opening tee shot ceremony, which he took part in from 2007 to 2016. In what could be described as Golf’s version of the “missing man” formation, an empty chair with Palmer’s green jacket draped over it was prominently placed near the ceremonial tee off site in tribute to his absence.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 10.14.35 AMHonorary starters Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were both visually moved during a moment of silence honoring their long time friend and competitor.

Once the pageantry concluded, the serious side of professional Golf returned to the forefront setting in motion a great Master’s tournament, which would crown a new champion and snap a string of heartbreaks for “El Nino” Sergio Garcia.

Garcia’s victory was an epic breakthrough for a man who has came up short several times on Golf’s biggest stages. Over his career, Garcia’s best performance in a Major was two second place finishes at both the PGA and Open championships, and taking third place at the U.S. Open.

However, Garcia’s stunning victory at the 2017 Master’s not only breaks his streak of disappointments, but also erases the title of “best player to never win a Major.”

Garcia’s road to victory was like a heavy weight fight. He and eventual second place finisher Justin Rose traded blows and leader status several times before a playoff round finally settled the match.

Garcia led for much of the day until back-to-back bogeys on the 10 and 11 holes resulted in a two stoke deficit to Rose. During this stretch, Rose took advantage of Garcia’s play and made some stellar shots to gain the lead. All indications pointed to another disappointment for “El Nino.”

The dynamic shifted when Garcia birdied and eagled the 14 and 15 holes, respectively, to regain the lead from Rose.

With everything all knotted up going into the 18 hole, both men were playing well. It was just a matter of who would falter first. When Rose missed a putt for birdie and settled for par, Garcia was poised to win with a birdie. He pared. The Master’s was going to a sudden death par four round.

The playoff had challenges for both men. Rose’s drive went wide right into some trees, and Garcia had to exorcise his own mental demons after years of disappointment.

Rose would work his way onto the fairway and with his third stroke. He put himself into position to putt for par. If he makes par after a bad start in the playoff, he’d put pressure on Garcia. Rose bogeyed the hole.

On the other hand, Garcia put together an excellent playoff round. His drive from the tee placed the ball perfectly on the fairway; his next stroke landed on the green about 18′ from the pin.

When Garcia went to putt, Rose was already in at five strokes, so par would win.

Garcia’s putt had the makings of a Hollywood movie, the ball looked like it was going to tickle the left rim and roll away from the cup, but it miraculously circled the pin and dropped in for birdie and the win.

The victory for Garcia look very unlikely a few holes earlier. He was trailing Rose by two strokes late in the final round, and Rose was playing great golf.

Then things changed.

Garcia’s turnaround looked to be divine intervention. After all, the final round of the 2017 Master’s happened to fall on what would’ve been the 60 birthday of his childhood hero and idol, Severiano Ballesteros. Could the late Spanish golfing legend be trying to help a fellow countryman?

Ghostly intervention does seem plausible if one looks at some of the developments late in the tournament. Garcia’s shot for eagle at 15 appeared to stop short at the rim, then make one final rotation to fall into the cup, and his final putt in the playoff dramatically circled the rim and dropped in. Both shots looked as if an invisible hand prodded the ball to its final destination.

Whether a person wants to believe it was providence or inspired play, it doesn’t really matter because Garcia won the Master’s outright with a spectacular shot for birdie. He didn’t back into the win by simply putting for par.

The Ballesteros storyline is a heartwarming narrative, but Garcia deserves all the credit for his victory. Neither supernatural forces nor an epic collapse by Rose tipped the Master’s tournament. Garcia persevered, played well and overcame personal setbacks to win his first Major and an Augusta National green jacket.

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BCS: Out In Style

Sports do not build character. They reveal it.– Heywood Broun

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 1.44.11 PMDuring its much-aligned existence, the BCS always had its critics. In its 16-year run there were countless tweaks to how it operated. Despite the fixes the system was far from perfect, but in its final year the BCS era ends with a bang.

This year’s bowls (Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange) were by far the best series of games the BCS has presented. The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio (#5 Stanford vs. #4 Michigan State) was a back and forth game that ended with a brutal defensive stand, which handed the victory to the Michigan State Spartans. Until that last play the game was in doubt.

The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (#15 UCF vs. #6 Baylor) didn’t have the dramatic alternating lead changes like the Stanford/Michigan State game did, but it featured a huge upset when the BCS buster UCF Knights beat the high-octane offense the Baylor Bears.

Following the New Year’s Day BCS games, the Allstate Sugar Bowl featured the #3, two-time national champion, Alabama Crimson Tide battling the #11 Oklahoma Sooners. This skirmish had four lead changes. Alabama had a chance to tie the game with a touchdown drive during the final 47-seconds; their hopes were dashed when A.J. McCarron coughed up the ball and Geneo Grissom returned the fumble for an eight-yard touchdown. If that wasn’t enough, a botched kickoff recovered by Oklahoma ended any chance for a miracle for the Crimson Tide.

On January 3rd the Discover Orange Bowl hosted the #7 Ohio State Buckeyes verses the #12 Clemson Tigers. This game featured more than a 1000-yards of offense and four lead changes. The game was sealed when Stephone Anthony intercepted Braxton Miller’s pass at Clemson’s 39-yard line with 87-seconds remaining in the game.

The BCS Championship Game couldn’t have been scripted any better. #1 Florida State Seminoles and #2 Auburn Tigers colliding for the ultimate prize: The NCAA Coaches Trophy. This game had it all. One team takes a commanding 21-3 lead early in the game, a valiant come from behind challenge (featuring a 100-yard kickoff return to take the lead), and a championship drive to win the game with only 13-seconds remaining. The heroics of the athletes on both sides were stellar examples of what makes college football special.

These final BCS era games are examples of what college football post-season should be. In many respects, this year’s bowl games raised the bar for what the new playoff system should strive to deliver every year. I believe it’s possible if the new playoff system doesn’t implode under the weight of bias and conference tie-ins that plagued the BCS during its run.


BCS Championship

Orange Bowl

Fiesta Bowl

Rose Bowl

Sugar Bowl