The 83rd Masters was a book presented in four chapters, the first of which was: What are the odds? There was speculation surrounding virtually everything but the pimento cheese sandwiches.
Most of it focused on the marquee players of today like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas; some of it on a pair of long-in-the-tooth players named Phil and Tiger.
Vegas Insider.com cited one sports book that assigned their odds for winning: Spieth-25/1, McIlroy-8/1, Koepka-30/1, Johnson-13/1, Thomas-20/1, Mickelson-45/1 and Woods-14/1.
Not much happened Day 1 on the venerable Augusta National course that was more exciting than the previous day’s Par 3 Contest or the opening shots fired by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Phil Mickelson was one shot off the lead held by Koepka and (30/1 odds) Bryson Deshambeau, the Mad Scientist. The reserved Koepka had played a bogey-free yawner while Deshambeau was going on about the impact of science on a ball striking the flagstick (did not drop in) and energy/adrenaline production.
Chapter 2 (the second round) would be quite another story. Five players — all of them past major champions — would share the lead at seven under par: Francesco Molinari (30/1), Jason Day (30/1), Adam Scott (50/1), Louis Oosthuizen (40/1) and Koepka, who has won three of the last six majors.
As the sun set behind the Georgia pines, it was the first time ever that four or more winners of majors had led in the Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open or the PGA. Sixty-five players made the cut — the most since 1999. Day’s wife, Ellie, made headlines after he strained his back while leaning down to kiss his daughter. Said she: “It’s the Masters, you need to suck it up!”
Nine players were separated by a single shot, including Mickelson, who at age 48 was trying to become the oldest player ever to win a major. The Mad Scientist was having, among other things, some spin-rate issues, and fell four shots off the lead. Scott (69-68) and Justin Harding (69-69) were the only players in the field to have a shot at four rounds in the 60s, which has never been done. Spoiler alert: it still hasn’t.
Tiger Woods was simultaneously making sharp saves and missing shortish putts; he was quietly tied for second. One of those missed putts was a birdie attempt at the 12th that was delayed for nearly a half-hour when threatening weather stopped play.
Chapter 3: “Better Than Most.” Saturday was filled with fireworks, at one point featuring eight major champions in the top 10 on the leaderboard, and nine players tied for the lead at another.
Italy’s Molinari reeled off four birdies on the back nine to take a two-shot lead over Tony Finau, who fired one of three 64s on the day (Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay), and was tied with Woods. Defending champion Patrick Reed was by now no longer a part of the conversation, along with Spieth, McIlroy (who had sought to complete the Grand Slam) and the now silent Deshambeau.
In Chapter 4, everything changed. Anticipating bad weather for Sunday afternoon, final round tee times were changed to early morning. Also, players were grouped into threesomes instead of the traditional pairs, and both the first and 10 tees were used in hopes of finishing play before mother nature intervened. Finally, the traditional presentation of the green jacket at the 18th green was cancelled.
Woods and Molinari were in the final group, just as was the case in last summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie, where the Italian prevailed. Finau was the third member of the group. They, along with Koepka, Simpson, Ian Poulter, Johnson and Xander Shauffele, at various times shared the lead.
Then, the shortest hole on the course, the par-3 12th, drowned shots by Poulter, Koepka and Molinari. Woods birdied the 15th to take the lead alone, nearly aced the 16th, and needed only a bogey at the last to win his 15th major.
Epilogue: Tiger Woods won just over $2 million. A guy who placed an $85,000 bet on him with a Nevada book last Tuesday will pocket $1.19 million — and never made a putt!