Sunday at Augusta was set up perfectly for another historic Tiger moment. There was the 66 on Saturday that got him back in contention, and when Tiger birdied the second hole Sunday, it seemed the beginning of his inevitable march to victory and a third straight Green Jacket.
We should have known better.
Augusta National is famous for the unexpected, and this past Sunday proved no different. Instead of Tiger marching on, it was Len Mattiace who came from five back to take the lead on the back nine.
That’s the same Len Mattiace who was playing in the Masters for the first time as a professional and for just the second time in his life, the first time coming in 1988 (as an amateur) where he failed to make the cut. That’s a gap of 15 years between tournaments.
What’s more, Mattiace won for the first time in his career in 2002 after going 0-fer his first 223 tournaments. Mattiace would close with a final round 65 and set the clubhouse target of seven under.
One by one his challengers fell away on this surreal afternoon. Overnight leader Jeff Maggert lost his lead when his second shot on the third hole from a fairway bunker ricocheted off the lip and hit him in the chest, resulting in a two-shot penalty.
The second blow came on the 12th, with two balls in the water and a quintuple-bogey. Maggert did, however, keep his composure, and fought back to finish fifth.
Names like Singh, Toms, Furyk and Mickelson all failed to keep up with Mattiace. Mickelson closed with his best final round at Augusta, a four-under 68, but had to settle for third place for the third straight year.
There was one, however, who refused to crumble under Mattiace’s onslaught. Thirty-six-hole leader Mike Weir had seen his six-shot lead on Saturday turn into a two-shot deficit going into Sunday.
It may have been a blessing in disguise. All five of Weir’s tournament victories had been come from behind wins. If he was going to win the Masters, he would have to come from behind again, and come from behind he did.
Making putt after putt under the most severe pressure, none greater than the par saver he had to make on the 18th, Weir battled his way into a sudden-death playoff with Mattiace by shooting a blemish-free 68.
Weir then proceed to make his first bogey of the day on the 10th hole (the first playoff hole), but it was enough to earn him the Green Jacket when Mattiace made double-bogey.
A lefthander had won a major championship for the first time in 40 years. A Canadian had won a major championship for the first time ever. So in the end, history was indeed made at Augusta late Sunday evening, just not the history we were expecting.