After two hotly-debated rules controversies and a mostly dreary final round, the 2013 Masters produced a nail-biting finish that tournament patrons and television viewers have come to expect from golf’s most revered championship.
Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera provided a stirring conclusion to regulation when they both birdied the 18th hole to force a playoff. They followed with a rare occurrence in extra holes at Augusta National, as neither player suffered a miss-step, which has ended most of the previous Masters playoffs.
The final round began with a bang, as Jason Day birdied the first and holed out from a greenside bunker for eagle on the second to quickly pull into a tie for the lead with Brandt Snedeker, who also birdied the opening hole.
Cabrera, who shared the third round lead with Snedeker, made it a three-way tie at 8-under when he narrowly missed his eagle putt at the second. But after the noisy start, things quieted down at the top of the leader board for most of a drizzly day, as the contenders had problems adjusting to slower speeds on Augusta National’s normally lightning fast greens.
Other than 55-year-old Bernhard Langer, who birdied the first three holes to close within three of the lead, no one other than Day got anything going early, and little of consequence occurred over the next few hours. The top of the leader board was almost frozen for the remainder of the front nine and the first few holes of the famous back nine, with precious little movement among the five main contenders.
Bogeys by Snedeker and Day handed the lead to Cabrera, who accounted for the lone highlight in two or so hours of inaction when he stuffed his second shot on the par-4 seventh and birdied to take a two-shot lead.
Cabrera still led by two after a bogey at the 10th resulting from a tee shot into the right trees, with the tournament finally coming to life when the leaders reached the always interesting 13th hole.
Going to the 13th, Cabrera led the Aussie trio of Scott, Day and Marc Leishman by two shots and Snedeker by three. Snedeker and Leishman both were unable to produce any late heroics and did not factor in the stirring finish, leaving Cabrera, Day and Scott to battle it out for the green jacket.
Day, who was 2-over on his final round after his birdie-eagle start, suddenly caught fire with three consecutive birdies at 13, 14 and 15, beginning with another deft bunker shot on 13 and taking advantage of a friendly bounce after his tee shot hit the base of a tree on 15.
That gave him a brief two-stroke lead, with Cabrera falling back after hitting his second at 13 into the creek fronting the green. Scott, who played beautifully the entirety of the final round but managed just one birdie through 12 holes, cleared the creek at 13 by the slimmest of margins, and birdied both 13 and 15 to close within one of Day.
Going to the 16th tee, Day had control of the tournament. But he hit his tee shot to the par 3 just over the green and made bogey, and followed with another bogey at 17 when his approach came up short and he was unable to save par from the sand.
The lead reverted to Scott, but not for long, as Cabrera banged in a long birdie putt on 16. Day just missed his birdie try at 18, but Scott and Cabrera responded to the occasion.
Scott, who had holed just one putt of substance all day, slipped a birdie putt in the left side of the hole, reminiscent of winning putts on the 72nd hole by Mark O’Meara and Phil Mickelson.
Playing in the final group just behind Scott, Cabrera stuffed his approach within a few feet for the birdie that forced the third playoff in the last five Masters, one of which was won by Cabrera in 2009.
It was the ninth Masters sudden death playoff, and like six of the previous eight, it ended on the second hole. This time there were no missed 3-footers (Scott Hoch), second shots in the water (Ray Floyd), or simply sloppy efforts on the 10th hole (Len Mattiace, Kenny Perry, Louis Oosthuizen).
After Cabrera just missed his birdie try on the 10th, Scott holed his, joining Fuzzy Zoeller, Larry Mize, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods to have ended Masters playoffs with birdies.
Scott and Cabrera finished at 9-under 279 for the tournament, with Scott recording three scores of 69 along with a second round 72. Cabrera was under par all four days, carding back-to-back 69s Friday and Saturday and closing with a 70. Day was 3rd at 7-under, leading at 138 after a second round 68 before slipping to a 73 the next day. He shot 70 on Sunday.
Leishman, a mostly anonymous contender with just one PGA Tour win and one previous Masters appearance, shared the opening lead with Sergio Garcia at 66. He hung in the rest of the tournament, shooting 73-72-72 to tie Woods for 4th at 5-under. Garcia recovered from a dismal second round to shoot 70 Sunday and tie for 8th at 3-under.
Woods made more news for his improper drop on Friday after his third shot to the 15th clanged off the flagstick and rolled into the pond fronting the green. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty after explaining in a post-round interview Friday that he had dropped his ball two yards behind the spot from where he hit his third shot, misinterpreting one of golf’s more confusing rules applications.
Woods was saved from a DQ by a recent addition to the rules of golf that protects players from post-round penalties, which previously resulted in disqualification due to an incorrect scorecard. But photos shot by an Augusta Chronicle photographer indicated that Woods actually may not have taken an improper drop, which was the original ruling by Masters officials Friday after a wannabe rules official phoned in to offer his opinion after watching on television.
The first rules controversy to dominate the news at the Masters occurred the day before, when 14-year-old Tianlang Guan was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play, the first time that has happened in tournament history. The European official who made the ruling has a history of overzealous attention to otherwise overlooked guidelines regarding pace of play, and only avoided some deserved recrimination when Guan made the 36-hole cut on the number.
Guan handled the penalty with class, and stamped himself as a player to watch with an outstanding performance throughout the tournament.
Woods also accepted his infraction with no complaint, but his golfing future remains somewhat clouded. It’s been five years since he last won a major, and the venues for the next three majors this year are not necessarily favorable for him. He mounted a late charge Sunday to tie Leishman for 4th, but did not break 70 during the tournament, carding three 70s along with a second round 73.
Scott’s future appears considerably brighter. Regarded as a can’t-miss star from his late teens, Scott had done everything in golf except win a major prior to his victory in Augusta.
At the age of 32, Scott has 21 career victories – 10 on the PGA Tour including his unofficial 36-hole win in Los Angeles in 2005 and 11 internationally. His U.S. titles include the Players Championship (2004), Tour Championship at East Lake (’06) and WGC Bridgestone Championship (’11).
Scott has won in Europe, South Africa, the Middle East, Singapore and at home in Australia, but his early efforts in the majors were largely unimpressive until the past few years, when he has become a frequent contender. His first serious shot at a major came in the 2011 Masters, when he tied for 2nd behind Charl Schwartzel, who birdied the last four holes to edge Scott and Day by two strokes.
With his win in the Masters, Scott has finished no lower than 15th in his last six starts in majors, adding a second runner-up finish last year in the British Open, when he bogeyed the last four holes to lose a 4-stroke lead to Ernie Els.
Like Rory McIlroy after his back nine debacle in the 2011 Masters, Scott quickly rebounded, tying for 11th in the PGA Championship one month after his stumbling finish at Lytham. His win in Augusta essentially erases that black mark, and he is as likely as anyone to take over the No. 1 ranking from Woods whenever he yields it. He moved up to 3rd in the World Rankings after his victory.
Cabrera, who was denied a third major since 2007, vaulted from 269 to 64 in the rankings. He played in the final group on Sunday for the third time in five years, continuing his career long love affair with Augusta National.