The final round of the Masters was riveting television, with plots and subplots providing more color than Augusta National's azaleas in bloom, all of it expertly handled by a CBS crew that could have insinuated itself onto the telecast, but resisted.
This one did not need to be oversold, as television is wont to do. The unfolding story was sufficiently dramatic and told itself. The broadcast crew simply had to fill in the blanks. The end result was one of the better Masters in history, surely the best in high definition television.
First, there were Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
When Charl Schwartzel holed a remarkable birdie chip on No. 1, Nick Faldo noted that he did so just ahead of leader McIlroy, who was watching from the fairway: "He [McIlroy] now knows he's straight into the heat of the kitchen."
Then when McIlroy caught the lip of the fairway bunker at the second hole, leaving him 250 yards from the pin, Faldo offered this: "Just proving that Sunday afternoon with the lead things do feel a little different."
Woods, meanwhile, was making a dramatic move toward the lead.
"It's all about who can stay cool, calm and collected certainly for the next 90 minutes, through the middle of the round," Faldo said. "It's pretty chaotic right now."
"And everyone knows what one guy's doing," Jim Nantz said.
Tiger Woods following his eagle putt at eight. (Photo by Getty Images)
"You're going to see a fist pump if this goes in," Peter Oosterhuis said as Woods stood over a short eagle putt at the par-5 eighth.
It went in and on cue Woods gave a trademark fist pump.
Presciently, Peter Kostis offered this after McIlroy holed a birdie putt at seven to reclaim the solo lead: "You're going to find out how the youngsters react to Tiger being in the heat of the battle again. We're going to find out how Tiger reacts to being in the heat of the battle again."
The unraveling of McIlroy took over the story at the 10th hole, where Augusta National's autocratic rule detracted from the telecast. It won't permit CBS to employ its so-called foot soldiers, broadcasters assigned to accompany the leading groups, so no one, including CBS, knew where McIlroy's tee shot at 10 wound up until a camera finally showed McIlroy standing near his ball over by the cabins left of the 10th fairway.
It led, at least, to one of the better exchanges of the week
"Have you ever seen anyone anywhere close to this on 10?" Nantz asked.
"Never," Faldo replied. "Never."
"You know he's anxious to get to Butler Cabin, but he's a little early," Nantz said.
Who didn't feel for McIlroy in the wake of his collapse? The compassion of those who can relate was evident, Ian Baker-Finch, for instance, a former British Open champion whose skill entirely abandoned him a few years later.
"I can't believe it," he said. "No three-putts through the first three days. That's how easy it can happen. It's a brutal game. We're all a little fragile and we all feel for him."
Baker-Finch shined again after Woods three-putted for bogey at the 12th hole, including a missed three-footer for par.
"That is a momentum stopper," Baker-Finch said. Indeed. Woods made only one more birdie over the last six holes.
When Woods faced a birdie putt at the par-3 16th, Faldo set up Verne Lundquist by invoking the brilliant chip Woods holed from behind the green there in the 2005 Masters.
"Verne, this might be one of your calls," he said. "This has got to go in exactly the same how he holed that amazing incredible chip shot, side door."
"Could be," Lundquist said moments later as the putt was tracking toward the hole.
"It's not," he said when it missed.
The drama over the last two hours or so of the telecast moved this Masters into the pantheon of great ones. It had everything, including an international cast.
"Every continent except the Arctic and Antarctica is represented on the first page of the leaderboard," David Feherty said at one point.
The Arctic isn't a continent, but, hey, as Boon said to Otter when Bluto was mangling history in John Belushi's classic "Animal House" scene, "forget it, he's rolling."
At the time, South America was represented by Angel Cabrera, North America by Woods, Australia by Adam Scott and Co., Asia by K.J. Choi, Europe by Luke Donald and Africa by Schwartzel.
The best evidence yet that the old Tiger is back? His post-round interview with Bill Macatee, who asked three innocuous questions. Woods' answers:
"We'll see. Right now one back. We'll see what Adam does."
"I'm one back. We'll see what happens."
"I'm going to go eat. I'm starving."
Finally, as Schwartzel closed in on victory, there was this from Faldo, thinking ahead to the Champions Dinner a year from now: "His dad's a chicken farmer back in South Africa. So I guess we might get chicken next year."
-- John Strege