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LIFE GOES ON AT AUGUSTA — A NEW STAR ARRIVES, TIGER LIMPS AWAY
Scottie Scheffler is just what golf needed — fresh air, new blood — and his emergence dovetailed the torturous, triumphant, 30,040-yard walk of Woods, who completed 72 holes but begins a vague future
The Masters moves onward, almost flawlessly now that diversity mixes with the white men in their green jackets. Augusta National stays intact as a bubble-preserved piece of Americana, where the azaleas are timeless and the pimento cheese sandwich is still $1.50, though the Georgia peach ice cream sandwich vanished (scandalous!). In 100 years, we can assume, a first-tee starter still will be announcing, “Fore please …”
But this was the year we realized that nothing at this sacred gathering is permanent, not even Tiger Woods, while a steady, God-worshiping whirlwind named Scottie Scheffler sizes up his new wardrobe accessory. No sooner had Woods boarded his jet for the flight home to Florida, after flipping the bird at mortality, than Scheffler was continuing a story unfathomable in its own context. You knew nothing about him unless you were a golf nerd. On Super Bowl Sunday, he won his first PGA Tour event, then won again, then won again … and then, on Masters Sunday, he won for the fourth time in 57 days, blowing apart the field on a weekend that, somehow, is now known for more than Tiger returning from an SUV wreck that should have killed him.
It reminded us, in a stirring way, that life does go on. Woods needed 252 days to become the world’s top-ranked golfer after his first victory. Scheffler needed 42 days, begging a question: Is he the game’s next great player? He is clearly what the sport needs, fresh air and new blood, amid breathless Tiger health updates and the absence of Phil Mickelson, who wisely kept his big, ugly mouth away from the proceedings and the apparent purity of the new champion. Here’s a simple guy who married his high-school sweetheart — we’re already familiar with Meredith, who still hasn’t let go of her man after their heartwarming arm-in-arm stroll from the green — and exchanged hugs and backslaps with so many family members and friends that we finally stopped counting.
“My identity isn’t a golf score,’’ Scheffler said, in words all athletes should live by. “Like Meredith told me this morning, if you win this golf tournament, if you lose by 10 shots, if you never win another golf tournament again, I’m still going to love you. You’re still going to be the same person.’’
Wait. This is 2022. Love, sanity and perspective prevails?
He prepped for the biggest round of his life by chilling and binge-watching “The Office’’ — “two episodes into Season 4,’’ he said, admitting he did cry “like a baby’’ hours before teeing off and confessing to Meredith, “I don’t think I’m ready for this.’’ No, he won’t be losing his mind on social media, which he uses in pleasant, productive ways, such as his recent Instagram post: “Very grateful for one year of marriage to my best friend! God is good.’’ If this is superstardom in the making, rest assured it won’t be accompanied by dark, ugly headlines. The Scottie Scheffler who needed four putts on the final green and placed his hand over his mouth in semi-mock horror, in his first sign of cracking all weekend, is the Scottie Scheffler every human being can relate to.
“Come on, folks! Loft him on your shoulder!’’ Jim Nantz shouted from the CBS booth at the supportive fans, who were standing and encouraging him as they ringed the scene. The weird burst of evangelism wasn’t necessary. Scheffler says he never dreamed of winning the Masters until he took his first lead Friday, only because his expectations never were high enough to allow fantasies. He was too grounded to be this century’s Jean van de Velde, who melted down at Carnoustie in 1999 and never lived it down. The only slip-up was figuring out how to slide into an arm into his new jacket.
“My friends are still making fun of me, I’ve still got to do my chores at home and nothing really changes,’’ said Scheffler, who protected the lead for a third day and finished at 10-under par. “… I always wanted to be out here, but I never expected it. I never expected to be sitting where I am now. You know, you don’t expect things to come to you in this life. You just do the best that you can and with the hand you’re dealt and just go from there. I never really thought I was that good at golf, so I just kept practicing and working hard, and that’s just what I’m going to keep doing.’’
The final number, 278, placed him 23 strokes ahead of a man who once made a career of sitting where he sat in Butler Cabin. “Congratulations to Scottie Scheffler on an outstanding win,” Woods tweeted from another area code. “It’s been a special run.’’
Not surprisingly, given the enormity of his health challenge, Woods ended with his two worst rounds at the Masters. He collapsed with back-to-back 78s and needed 301 strokes that felt like 3,001. With determination lathered in courage, he returned to the playground of his fondest memories and completed a mission more admirable than his 15 major championships pieced together. He completed a 72-hole walk — measuring 30,040 yards and more than 36,000 steps — on hilly terrain that reduces younger, healthier men to mush.
His golfing genius survived only a day, with the realities of a horrific accident and the rude weekend intrusion of a 45-degree wind chill leaving a valiant yet sad image: a limping, laboring, hair-challenged senior navigating the final round in black clodhopper FootJoys, gripping a railing for a few stairs down to the scoring room. Using his putter as a cane on the back nine, his customary blood-red shirt couldn’t hide the agony of finishing 13-over and the pain of walking four days on a right leg nearly amputated last year. Soon enough, he allowed himself a big smile, as he did back when he was crushing the competition and celebrating the most spectacular, revolutionary brand of golf ever played.
He didn’t quit, he was telling us. He didn’t crumple to the ground, as I’d worried. He finished the work assignment. And that will be his lesson, to all humanity, as his future as a majors-contending competitor fades to doubt. Will he be back? Yes, definitely, in July at The Open at St. Andrews — think he’d miss that golden moment? — and perhaps at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills next month and the U.S. Open at Brookline in June. Will he contend? Will he extend one good day to three or four? How about letting him get through a few days without another excruciating ice bath? Know this: Only the cruelest soul would demand him to do more than show up anymore.
“Never give up. Always chase after your dreams. And I fight each and every day,’’ Woods said of his lasting statement. “Each and every day is a challenge. Each and every day presents its own different challenges for all of us. I wake up and start the fight all over again.”
His final journey to the 18th green, triumphant five times before, was a scene that oozed perseverance and a deeper meaning. Such a polarizing figure through his scandals, he was showered with applause and love, 25 years after he crashed through the curtain of a racist club. “An unbelievable feeling,’’ he said. “I don't think words can really describe that given where I was a little over a year ago and what my prospects were at that time to end up here and be able to play in all four rounds. Even a month ago, I didn't know if I could pull this off. I think it was a positive. I’ve got some work to do, and I’m looking forward to it.’’
Define “work.” The world wants answers. “It'll be just the big events," he confirmed, to Sky Sports, as expected. "I don't know if it'll be Southern Hills or not. But I am looking forward to St. Andrews. That is something that is near and dear to my heart. I've won two Opens there, it's the home of golf. It's my favorite golf course in the world, so I will be there for that one. But anything in between that, I don't know. I will try, no doubt. Like this week, I will try and get ready for Southern Hills and we'll see what this body is able to do."
He needn’t try if he isn’t up to it. What more is there to prove? He realistically cannot win four more majors and break Jack Nicklaus’ record. He limped around Torrey Pines for five days and won the U.S. Open in 2008. He returned from a decade of surgeries and scandals and title droughts to win the Masters in 2019. Sunday, he came back from the dead. Why not enjoy life and stop the self-torture?
The same rationale applies to Mickelson, who wasn’t missed at Augusta after his incendiary comments about a rival league financed by rich Saudis: “They’re scary motherf—ers to get involved with. We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.’’ Stay away, Phil.
Tiger, meanwhile, continues to inspire the planet. “I have those days where I just don’t want to do it. It just hurts,’’ he said. “Those days are tough. There have been more tough days than easy days. The recovery sessions — ice baths, several times a day — those really do suck.’’
He will know when it’s time to retire. Surrender hasn’t entered his bloodstream just yet. “You’ve got to work through it,’’ he said, “like golf.’’
Besides, there’s another young rival to energize him. This one is 25.
He is 46, going on 80.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.