National / Sports / April 13, 2011

Heartbreak and redemption at Augusta

Sports at their best can mimic, or at least resemble, the complexity of the human spirit. When captured on television, however, sports become less about triumph and tragedy and more about the opportunity for CBS to promote “The Big Bang Theory” or “Mike and Molly.”

That said, there are times when the corporate minutiae are rendered irrelevant, when ads and product placement cannot ruin the moment. And there are moments when, against all odds, networks prove they have something resembling, or at least acting as, a heart.

When Rory McIlroy’s round—and tournament—came undone at Augusta National’s Amen Corner last weekend, CBS did something rather remarkable: they stopped showing his epic collapse. After McIlroy went triple bogey-bogey-double bogey to start his back nine, he hooked a driver into the water on the par five thirteenth hole. He dropped his head and, though the camera angle was not perfect, it seemed he was crying.

CBS, quite rightfully, decided that no one would benefit from watching the 21-year old Northern Irish prodigy unravel. So they stopped showing him, only periodically letting the audience know how he was doing. Here and there they might show a missed six-footer, but until he made the walk up to the eighteenth green—long after something called Charl Schwartzel had easily captured the Green Jacket—McIlroy was basically invisible.

This is a broadcasting oddity quite unique to golf. When Butler was destroyed in the second half of last week’s national title game, CBS had no choice but to show everything, however atrocious.

But don’t cry for McIlroy. He’s the Next Big Thing. Americans don’t dislike him, generally speaking, and he showed grace in his post-round interviews and on Twitter from Sunday to Monday.

He is an easy pick to be Tiger’s heir apparent. While other young superstars are busy designing flashy Puma outfits—Rickie Fowler—or drinking themselves silly and showing up to tournaments hung over, McIlroy is racking up top-five finishes in major championships, readying himself for an incredible career.

If any golfer alive may someday challenge Nicklaus’ record for major titles (eighteen), it might be Rory.

He also won $128,000 on Sunday, for what it’s worth.

Tiger’s been back for a while

Folks can crow all day about Tiger Woods’ various indiscretions, and rightfully so. Cheating on your wife, with whom you’ve had two children, is awful enough; for Tiger to commit adultery in such a public space and effectively ruin whatever relationship he may have with his children is monstrous.

Then again, and I say this only half-jokingly, when he’s golfing well, I can’t really be moved to care about his having cavorted around with porn stars and publicists. Sally forth, Tiger, so long as you play the sort of golf you did on Friday and Sunday.

But seriously, it’s pretty clear why Tiger didn’t win the tournament: 1. He couldn’t sink a putt on the back nine and 2. The pin positions on the back nine were there for the taking, and Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel just did a better job.

Analysts will say, invariabily, that Tiger’s inability to close on the back nine showed, once again, that the former undisputed greatest golfer in the world is no longer so great. But what they won’t note is that Tiger has finished in the top six of six of the last nine major championships, dating back to the 2009 Masters.

That he has failed to win one of these majors only proves two things: first, that the competition is simply better now than ever before; second, that there is some luck involved in winning golf tournaments.Tiger has not had an “eighteen at Valhalla” moment for some time (when an errant tee shot on the final hole of the 2001 PGA Championship “mysteriously” caromed back into play—Tiger then defeated Bob May in a thrilling playoff).

Schwartzel’s run unforeseen?

Though no one would say that Schwartzel was a trendy pick for the 2011 Masters, it’s far-fetched to say the 26-year old South African came from nowhere. He finished 2010 with three straight top-twenty major finishes.

Schwartzel vaulted up the World Golf Rankings to number eleven with his win Sunday. There are now five South Africans—Schwartzel, Ernie Els (14), Retief Goosen (22), Louis Oosthuizen (28) and Tim Clark (31)—in the top 100.

But despite his win, Schwartzel may not have been the breakout star of the 2011 Masters. Adam Scott, after a long slump, finally proved that he could, at long last, compete for a major championship. Scott’s swing, as always, looked crisp, but it was his putting stroke that nearly won him the tournament.

Though some scoff at Scott’s belly putter (myself included, instinctively), there’s no reason to fault him. Desperate times, desperate measures, etc. Scott was one more year of mediocre play from joining former up-and-comers Niclas Fasth and Charles Howell III in golf obscurity.

Kevin Morris

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