The Rory collapse, a Tiger run that history forgot, 8 different Sunday leaders, and a lights-out finish: the 2011 Masters Rewatch
This is the latest 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?
I need a cigarette. I don't smoke.
Rewatching Masters of yesteryear has been a pre-Augusta palliative well before the club put the final-round broadcasts online in 2018, as my father and I have a library of tournament tapes stretching into the '80s. But there are two Masters final rounds I have not rewatched: 1994 and 2011. Why? On the former, I was a BIG Tom Lehman guy at the time; I have since found it in my heart to forgive José María Olazábal. On the latter, well, like ice cream on pancakes, it was simply too much.
Eight—eight!—different players held the lead on Sunday, including a five-way tie at one point on the back nine. Tiger Woods was on the precipice of mounting the greatest charge in Masters history. Of the top-seven finishers, only Luke Donald has not won a major, and he's a former No. 1 in the world. With a closing six-under-par 66, eventual champion Charl Schwartzel submitted a tour-de-force performance with a chip-in birdie, a hole-out eagle and lights-out finish. And I submit history will view Rory McIlroy's 10th-hole adventures as impactful as the the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Revisiting 2011 for our ongoing series proved my theory true. There have been more emotionally weighted tournaments, those that brandished snapshot moments with popular champs that live on in montages, yet few Masters can match 2011 in pure adrenaline, plot twists and utter exhaustion. It's like watching "Tiger King," only one is not left with a profound sadness for humanity afterwards.
We tried scribbling down play-by-play, but it reads like a manifesto of a madman. (Example: "We don't talk about K.J. Choi enough.") Which is why this Masters Rewatch is not so much a running diary as it is a list of takeaways and observations. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find a light.
1.) Watching Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer hit their Honorary Starter tee shots, I wondered, "How old would Jack have to be for me to beat him?" According to GHIN, Nicklaus—who turned 80 this January—has a 6.3 handicap at his Bear's Club. I'm a scratch, and I say with the utmost conviction Jack would whip my behind, straight up. So I spent the next 20 minutes researching how age affects the golf swing, and mapped out if I put family and work obligations to the side and really honed in on my game . . . the answer is never.
2.) The Low Am? 19-year-old Hideki Matsuyama, who dressed in a yellow-belt, yellow-sunglasses ensemble that is part Ian Poulter, part Guy Fieri.
Yes, even as a teenager, Matsuyama was patenting the "dejected mannerism as the approach rattles the flag" pose. Matsuyama had an interesting Sunday—six bogeys, four birdies—but was the only Am to make the weekend.
3.) Nick Faldo was shining like Vegas on fight night at the prospect of 21-year-old Rory wearing the green jacket. "My goodness, it could unfold everything!" Faldo exclaimed at the telecast's opening. As my colleague Coleman Bentley is prone to say, it's the hope that hurts the most.
4.) I was not being hyperbolic above. Perhaps no Masters encapsulates the Sunday blitzkrieg mythos like 2011. The top six finishers boasted a 67.33 scoring average in their final round. Oddly enough, the final pairing of the day—McIlroy and Angel Cabrera—was on the only group to go sideways.
One of those players to go on a run was . . .
5.) Tiger. Beginning his day seven shots back of McIlroy, Woods made four birdies and a bogey on his first seven holes. Things didn't get rocking until the seventh with a tight approach to six feet, with Woods cleaning up the remaining work with a stroke and fist pump. Then from 278 yards out on 8, Woods rocketed a 3-wood up the right side, grabbing the slope of the green, funneling towards the hole as it fuels the patrons with glee. With only eight feet for eagle, Tiger does not tease. The ball drops. So do passionate expletives from Tiger. Big Cat is officially on the prowl on Masters Sunday.
We—fans, media, even players—are guilty of only holding victories up as seminal moments for the greats, viewing anything else as a disappointment. Perhaps even Woods views this tournament in this vein. He bogeyed 12 and parred 13 (the easiest hole on the course). The dagger was twirling his approach on the 15th, minutes after Rory fell apart, the ball coming to rest a few feet from the pin. That shot took those roars from Tiger at 8 and amplified them to "aircraft at takeoff" status . . . only he misses the eagle putt. Which was fitting, for it was his putter that ultimately betrayed him; he led the field in three-putts and ranked 32nd in putts for the week.
But it's that window captured above, those few moments when a legend stirs up the echoes in the Georgia pines where anything seems possible, that resonates more than any silver or crystal possibly could.
6.) Let's get to Rory. We tend to focus on his triple at the 10th for doing the lad in. The spiral started long before he stepped foot on the hole dubbed Camellia.
McIlroy bogeyed the first. He had to scramble to make par at the second (the third-easiest hole on the week) after his drive found a bunker and his approach hit the lip. A bogey at five was seemingly forgiven with a birdie at the seventh, but another par at the par-5 eighth signaled something was off.
As for the 10th . . . what I forgot was the lack of confusion from the snap-hooked drive. McIlroy can be heard asking if there's out of bounds to the left, yet the announcing crew carries on as if it's merely a pulled drive.
It's a good five minutes before the broadcast shows McIlroy in the cabins, with Faldo unable to hide his astonishment. "My goodness . . . that can be no more than 150 yards off the tee," Sir Nick said. Just as staggering is that McIlroy was able to play his shot from there, managing to get it back within the hole's confines. But his third with a wood was also a wild hook, coming to rest by the score board situated 40 yards away from the green. His fourth loudly catches a tree as a patron screamed, "OH MY GOD." The fifth found the green, but his sixth didn't find the cup.
The thing is, McIlroy was still very much in the tournament after the triple, just two back of the lead with plenty of scoring holes ahead. But he would follow with a bogey on 11 and a four-putt double on 12, the triple deflating the poor guy's confidence something fierce. He would finish with an eight-over 80, a round that clearly sent his career into a tailspin. And by tailspin, we mean winning the U.S. Open by eight shots two months later.
7.) OK, we mentioned it above, but seriously: We don't talk enough about K.J. Choi. He had three top-eights at this event, had TWO nicknames ("Tank" and "Hawkeye," both of which are outstanding) and a cameo in "Seven Days in Utopia" where he plays unflappable golfer "T.K. Oh" in the climax of the movie, set at the Valero Texas Open. Of the film, Roger Ebert wrote "I would rather eat a golf ball than see this movie again."
Choi briefly held the lead after McIlroy's triple, but poor putting led to bogeys at the 12th, 17th and 18th holes, dropping him into a tie for eighth.
8.) Also finishing T-8: Bo Van Pelt. The Notorious BVP made a run at the Masters record the following year with a final-round 64 featuring four birdies and two eagles, one of which was an ace at the 16th. Yet the T-8 in 2011 was Van Pelt's only top-10 major finish in his career.
9.) Adam Scott, who had just one top-15 in his previous nine Masters starts, rolls in a bomb for birdie at the 11th to move into contention. "The switch to the long putter is paying off . . . will be interesting to see where that takes him," Ian Baker-Finch says, foreshadowing the rise and fall of Adam Scott in one sentence.
Another Aussie, Jason Day, was mostly absent on the broadcast until reaching the 13th in two, his birdie putting him among the contenders. Day would make four birdies on the back, including on the 17th and 18th, to finish T-2. What's odd in the rewatch is it appears Day's wife thinks he's won the Masters after a birdie on the final hole, despite Schwartzel remaining one up and in the fairway right behind Day and Scott. To be fair, a lot was happening.
10.) Speaking of fair, we probably did Charl Schwartzel wrong. Only waited 1,530 words to discuss the guy who won.
That Schwartzel hasn't done much in the States since his Masters triumph, with one PGA Tour win and four top 10s in 32 majors appearances since 2011, hasn't delivered the legacy his performance properly deserves. But Schwartzel was stone-cold with his putter, ranking second in the week in putting (three hole-outs didn't hurt) and needed just four putts on the final four holes, punctuated by an 18-footer on the final hole to win by two. Moreover, he did it in the face of a leaderboard crowded with some of the game's biggest stars and on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player's first Masters win. That is getting it done.