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Epic meltdowns, an almost famous charge and a bizarre playoff help define the 2003 Masters

March 25, 2020
Weir pulls a club

David Cannon

This is the seventh installment of our Masters Rewatch series, in which we watch and recap the last 23 final rounds of the Masters while we’re working from home due to the coronavirus. What better way to get your Masters fix while in quarantine than by firing up YouTube and remembering all the stuff you might have missed from past Sundays at Augusta National?

There’s never a good time for one’s computer to crash, but it’s especially problematic when it coincides with your colleagues rushing to edit a Google doc for a group project such as this series. I was under the impression my co-workers were family, lending a hand to those who have fallen. Turns out they are savages, their morality devoured by narcissism with self-interests serving as their only guiding light. Every man truly is an island.

In a totally unrelated note, I am your guide for the 2003 Masters Rewatch.

It’s a tournament often overlooked in Augusta National lore, but it’s something of a cult classic thanks to a pair of epic meltdowns, an almost famous Sunday charge, a forgettable one-hole playoff and the crowing of a national hero. Let’s dive into the final round of the 2003 Masters.

1.) The broadcast opens with Tiger Woods flaring his tee shot at the first into the right bunker. Woods, searching for a Masters three-peat, made the cut on the number but vaulted into contention with a bogey-free 66 on Saturday, beginning his final round four shots out of the lead. "Will the day belong to the man who has defined his sport?" Jim Nantz wonders. Spoiler alert: It did not.

2.) Warming up his pipes for his annual sermon with a rundown of Tiger’s 66, Nantz appears ready to take the pulpit, only for a choir to kick in. The choir being Bryan Adams, with "This is Me."

Listen, it was an odd, vulnerable time in America. The country was three weeks into the Iraq War. Justin Timberlake had ended Britney Spears’ career with “Cry Me a River.” Karma died as Jim Boeheim won an NCAA Championship. So bringing in Canadian folk hero Adams to sooth the souls of a wounded nation was … nope, you’re right. It still makes zero sense.

3.) The final pairing, Mike Weir and Jeff Maggert, are seen leaving the clubhouse. Although Maggert was a rank-and-file player by this point of his career (outside the OWGR top 100 heading into the week), history has not been kind to Weir’s then-standing. The diminutive Canadian was No. 10 in the world prior to the Masters and was coming off a heater in February, winning the Bob Hope Classic and Los Angeles Open and finishing third at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Weir owned a six-shot lead at one point Saturday but played the final 10 holes in four over, while Maggert birdied five of his final six to take a two-shot lead into Sunday.

4.) Ten minutes into the broadcast and we’ve seen four live shots, three of them from Tiger. That sweet Bryan Adams nectar doesn’t come without a price.

5.) This is Lanny Wadkins’ first year in the booth, taking the reins from the venerable Ken Venturi. Wadkins comes out firing, opining that keeping the ball in the fairway will be imperative for Tiger. A curious statement, given Augusta National is famous for the exact opposite.

6.) Nantz formally welcomes us to Butler Cabin. His appearance spun me something fierce, so much I double-checked the tape was from 2003. The cat is clearly on the same anti-aging serum as Paul Rudd.

7.) Following a 325-yard drive, Woods twirls an approach at the par-5 second to 20 feet, giving him a chance to get within two of Maggert. The eagle falls short, but Tiger cleans it up for bird. Moments before, Mickelson drained a 70-footer to get to two under. “When those things happen,” croons Bobby Clampett, “you have to think it’s your day.” Bobby is showing an awfully strong foreshadowing game; it’s just he’s a year early.

8.) Maggert, after blocking his approach to the right, drills a 15-footer on the first for par. Clearly this guy is not rattled by the moment. (Cues lightning and thunder.)

Tiger Woods of the USA

Andrew Redington

9.) With the tees up at the third, Tiger pulls out the Smoke Wagon (before we knew such a beautiful term like “Smoke Wagon” existed) but blows it right. We take it back, Lanny; Tiger did need to hit fairways.

It was Flowering Peach that put the kibosh on Tiger’s three-peat. After successfully punching out left-handed (!), Woods’ third rolls over the green and his fourth barely reaches the putting the surface. The result is a double, and throws Woods in a tailspin with bogeys on three of his next five. The end result is a 75, which remains his worst Sunday score in 22 Masters appearances.

10.) Weir birdies the second while Maggert misses his try at the second, Weir bringing the deficit to one. Maggert’s miss is especially painful knowing what’s ahead at the third …

11.) Be it Van de Velde at Carnoustie, Mickelson at Winged Foot, etc., I have a perverse habit of watching trainwreck highlights, hoping what I know happens doesn’t happen. And when it happens, it feels like a roller coaster collapsing mid-ride.

Even with that state of mind, I was not ready for Maggert’s bunker blunder.

Maggert lays up off the tee, seemingly a prudent move after the audience witnessed Tiger’s debacle, only to hook his ball into the beach. It doesn’t seem bad, just 100 yards or so from the green, but Maggert’s approach catches the lip and ricochets back. “Oh. My. Goodness,” Clampett utters. Wadkins says Maggert is lucky the ball didn’t hit him, except the cameras show Maggert patting his chest and saying, “It hit me.”

Jeff Maggert of the USA

Getty Images

Maggert walks away with a triple, which isn’t bad considering the two-stroke penalty, but in three holes he’s gone from two up on Weir to two down. This is often remembered as the turning point of the tournament, and it’s not technically wrong. But as we’ll soon see, Maggert did not go quietly after the third.

At this juncture my editor remarks we are 1,000 words deep with four hours left in the broadcast. So I’m going to let you in on a little secret, something only Augusta insiders know: The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. With this salient counsel in mind, we hop to Weir, Maggert and company making the turn.

12.) Len Mattiace, starting the day at even for the tournament and about 40 minutes ahead of the final group, made the turn in three under and birdied the 10th to get one back of Weir. At the par-5 13th Mattiace, brandishing a 5-wood, just clears the tributary guarding the green, his shot finishing eight feet left of the pin. CBS analyst Peter Kostis says it’s only the second time a player has reached the 13th in two on Sunday. That sound you hear is Augusta National buying additional property from Augusta Country Club.

Mattiace cashes in, his eagle moving him to six under on the day and one ahead of Weir. “LENNY MATTIACE!” Kostis exclaims, which now doubles as my ringtone.

13.) Vijay Singh birdied the 10th and 11th holes to get to four under. Unfortunately for the Fijian he follows with a bogey at the 12th and bogeys both par 5s on the back to slip out of contention. He finishes T-6. Still, check out this seven-year Masters run from Vijay starting in 2000: Win—T18—7—T6—T6—T5—T8. Astonishing considering he turned 37 in February 2000.

14.) Since his triple, Maggert answered with birdies at the fifth and 10th to claw to four under, just two behind Mattiace as he reaches the 12th. Clampett tell us Maggert has grabbed a 7-iron. “Seems like too much club,” Clampett whispers. Those words ring true as Maggert’s tee shot find one of the back bunkers. It’s a place you absolutely cannot be at Golden Bell as Maggert shows on his second, his ball skidding from the sand, over the green and into Rae’s Creek.

Going to the other side of Rae’s Creek, Maggert attempts his fourth from the drop area, his shot falling from the sky like its engines fell off. The ball barely makes it halfway before crashing into the water. Silence follows, broken only by Clampett making a Dan Forsman reference. For you kids out there, anytime you’re name-dropped with Dan Forsman, it’s time to call it a day. “What an odyssey this has been,” Nantz adds as a dejected Maggert walks back to the 12th green. The final damage: A quintuple-bogey 8.

For posterity, Maggert made three birdies over his final six holes, finishing T-5 with a 75. That would be five birds, 11 pars, one triple, one quintuple. Put that score card in the Smithsonian.

15.) Mickelson’s not quite out of it, three back of Mattiace as he clobbers his drive on the 15th. But that deficit goes to four as Mattiace cleans up a two-footer for birdie at the green, moving to seven under for the day/tournament. With three holes left he has a shot at 63, the course record shared by Nick Price and Greg Norman (neither which own a green jacket) is in play.

A pursuit that looks better and better after Mattiace’s 5-iron (?!?!) at the 16th, leaving five feet and change which he converts, now eight under on the day. Going on a limb and saying Mattiace has this locked up.

16.) Jim Furyk was relatively quiet in the penultimate group, but sunk a chip from behind the 15th green for eagle. Though Furyk finished fourth, he would go on to win the U.S. Open two months later at Olympia Fields.

17.) From 189 yards, Mickelson’s 2nd finds the 15th green, 30 feet or so from the pin. “You better believe Phil is going to give this a run,” asserts David Feherty. One minute later, Phil’s 30-foot eagle attempt goes 20 feet. “Ohhhhhh, oh,” Feherty bemoans as Phil looks to the sky. “That is the last thing I expected.” Personally, I blame the baggy white t-shirt Mickelson was wearing underneath his polo, the added weight encumbering his movement. Is it a coincidence he ditched the undershirt and promptly won the 2004 Masters? (thinking) Probably, yes.

Mickelson would birdie and add one more at the 18th, but Phil would ultimately finish two shots short.

Len Mattiace of the USA

Harry How

18.) Weir makes a marvelous up-and-down from the back of the 13th—which included a 10-foot putt—for birdie, staying just two back of Mattiace. For the interest of time, Weir makes a routine par at 14.

19.) Mattiace nearly drills his putt from off the green at 17, tapping in for par. As he steps on the 17th a chyron informs us the largest deficit overcome to win the Masters after 36 holes is eight strokes by Jack Burke in 1956. Mattiace trailed by as many as nine on Saturday. Moreover, a birdie gives him a share of the course record. Oh, and he holds a two-shot lead. What could possibly go wrong?

His drive, apparently, which goes right, catching the pines. He’s forced to punch it out, leaving 120 yards, and his third goes just over the green into the first cut. The fourth isn’t much better, leaving six feet.

Down at 15 Weir, who laid up on his second, tucks his third into the circle of trust. “Oh Canada!” Feherty says, which, frankly, was a rare miss for the funnyman.

Back to 18, Mattiace’s bogey sneaks in on the left side of the cup. It’s a seven-under 65 and one of the most fabulous final rounds in Masters history. But his two stroke-lead from the tee has evaporated, and Weir has three holes left to get to eight under.

20.) However, Weir can’t capitalize on a 10-footer for birdie at the 16th.

Before we finish, Weir was 39th in driving distance (out of 49 players ) and T-37 in greens in regulation, two areas that have historically correlated to Augusta glory. Instead his performance was fueled almost solely by the short game, leading the field in scrambling (76.47 percent), ranking fourth in putting and second in putts/GIR. Just as impressive, the lack of pop didn’t stop Weir from taking care of the par 5s, playing the 2nd, 8th, 13th and 15th in a tournament-best 10 under for the week.

21.) After finding the fairway at the tight 17th, Weir’s approach barely finds the green. He birdie putt burns the lip and leaves five feet for par, which he makes. Weir’s still tied with Mattiace heading to the final hole. Finding the fairway at 18, Weir pulls a 4-iron—man, these were different times—his approach landing on the green, but failing to reach the back part where the pin is located. Wadkins tells us it’s going to be extremely difficult to two-putt from there.

Weir’s attempt for the win is ... not great. He leaves a 30-footer six feet short. Mattiace, who appears to have one less button on his collar every time the camera cuts to him—made all the better with his chest hair sprouting forth like azaleas—is stalking just off the green. Weir’s par attempt is smooth and true. We will have our first sudden death playoff in 13 years.

22.) Mattiace begins the playoff with a nuke that catches the power slot. The left-handed Weir hits a fade, which Wadkins tells us will be nowhere near Mattiace’s drive, only for the cameras to show the two balls right next to each other in the fairway. In fact, Weir ends up outdriving Mattiace. I was a high-schooler and college student during Wadkins’ four seasons in the booth and loved his candidness, but it’s also not hard to see how he lasted just four seasons before being replaced by Nick Faldo.

23.) Mattiace plays first and his approach from 188 yards is a foul ball. It’s a hook, a mean hook, a good 30 yards left of the green, and comes to rest behind a loblolly pine. Weir reaches the green, but it’s 50 feet short of the pin.

24.) Mattiace punches out onto the green, leaving about 25 feet. Quite remarkable from a cemetery, really. Weir knocks his birdie attempt eight feet past. While not great, it looks a heck of a lot better as Mattiace sends his 25-foot par save 20 feet by, finishing at the collar. Mattiace guns THAT putt, his bogey going four feet past the hole. There’s a reason this Masters isn’t in the annual highlight reel.

Augusta National Archive

Augusta National

25.) Weir misses his par attempt, but taps in for bogey as Nantz can only muster, "The green jacket is heading north of the border." You read that right, no exclamation mark. You know things are bad when Jim can’t get up for the moment.

26.) Fans accuse broadcasters of going too easy on players. That was not the case for Bill Macatee, who asks Mattiace if a 45-minute wait threw him off at the playoff. When Mattiace says no, Macatee follows with, “You played so freely and relaxed all day. … Did the weight of what you were about to accomplish strike you on the 18th tee?” Poor Mattiace. Nearly makes history, watches a life-changing moment slip away, and now has a guy with a microphone insinuating he choked. How he didn’t toss Macatee into Rae’s Creek is beyond me.

27.) The ending wasn’t a reenactment of “The Natural.” Injuries eventually hampered the careers of Weir and Mattiace, another reason why 2003 hasn’t acquired the patina associated with the tournament. That it’s sandwiched between wins by Tiger and Phil doesn't help.

Yet Weir was a guy who spent years on golf’s mini-circuits and made multiple tries at Q school. In an era that became increasingly dominated by the long ball, he proved finesse and fortitude still mattered. Most importantly, he became the first Canadian to win the green jacket. The 2003 event is not as celebrated as other Augusta affairs. But, for better and worse, it remains memorable.