We’ll have a quiet Easter Sunday in the Fury household. Sleep in. Put my ear to the ground in an attempt to hear my mom praying from 1,500 miles away for her lapsed Catholic son, who probably couldn’t even go to confession anymore because he couldn’t supply an answer to how long it’s been since his last confession. Light breakfast. Sandwich for lunch.
Sit in front of the TV for five hours watching The Masters.
It’s a Sunday tradition every April, and even as I type those words I realize I’ve fallen prey to CBS’ marketing and famous instrumental theme song. I certainly follow all the majors and enjoy various aspects of each one. The U. S. Open has its trainwrecks and Johnny Miller putdowns, the British Open has links play, stunning seaside views and those adorable accents from British broadcasters, and the PGA Championship has, well, it often has an exciting ending, sometimes even with guys you’ve heard of. But The Masters remains the signature major, first on the calendar and first in people’s minds when they think of iconic moments.
Writers such as the superb group of golf scribes at Sports Illustrated have been playing up how this is the most anticipated Masters in years. That anticipation comes with an expectation that either Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson will win the event, preferably in dramatic fashion with a birdie on the 18th while one of their rivals stands by in the final pairing of the weekend. But how often do expectations meet reality, especially in a golf tourney, where all it takes is one guy to get hot to ruin all the best storylines, even if he’s creating new ones of his own?
The 2001 Masters – when Tiger won his fourth straight major, which completed either a grand slam or a Tiger slam, depending on your belief system and vocabulary – lived up to expectations. When Mickelson won in 2004 it became one of the more memorable Masters of all-time, but going into the week there probably wasn’t the excitement surrounding this one. The 2010 tourney certainly lived up to the hype, especially for the moralists among us, as good guy Mickelson won it for his ailing wife over evil sex addict Tiger Woods.
But even if the Masters doesn’t turn in to one of the most memorable four days in its long history, it will still be memorable. The victor probably determines just how long we remember it. Last year’s final round, when numerous players blitzed the back-9, was one of the most exciting finishes in the tournament’s history, but while not forgotten, hasn’t been the subject of a book or even poetry, simply because the winner ended up being Charl Schwartzel.
An old issue made a fresh appearance this week, as Masters officials again faced questions about why there are no female members at Augusta National. The media grilled chairman Billy Payne on Wednesday about this – he appeared shaken, according to one report, and seeing a Southern gentleman shaken is not something you forget – but Masters bigwigs shouldn’t ever fret too much. Thursday always brings on amnesia to people as the issue’s put away for another year – look at the beauty! – and will only be revisited in 52 weeks, and only then for the three days before the start of the tourney.
The most maddening thing about the actual golf action remains the television times, as The Masters dictates how much can be shown. We get some afternoon time from ESPN on Friday and Saturday and then three-and-a-half hours on Saturday, before the Masters lords grace us with five hours on Sunday. Online you can watch action at Amen Corner and some featured groups. And that’s it. Some people still like this archaic TV schedule, believe it helps the tourney maintain its, what, dignity? Separates it from the rest of the sports world, where nine-hour pregames and nonstop coverage rules. But this is the 21st Century, even if much of the club seems set in the early part of the 20th. In 2005, the third round was delayed into Sunday, which is when Tiger made his move, climbing to the top of the leaderboard, which viewers only discovered when CBS came on in the afternoon for the final round and provided a pleasant recap of the morning’s activity. Not quite as thrilling watching it happen six hours later.
Those players with morning tee times – Tiger’s among that crew on Thursday, Rory and Phil on Friday — play in front of the spectators but no television audience. Golfers love to say you can’t win a tournament on Thursday but you can lose it. Perhaps. Just don’t expect to see anyone actually do that on television in the morning. History tells us we should apparently just be grateful for what we do get. In the ’50s, CBS only broadcast the final four holes and viewers didn’t see the first eight holes until 1993. These things apparently come in increments down in Augusta, so by 2040 we’ll actually be able to watch the morning players on the first two days of action.
When we do watch we’ll get to hear the announcers talk about the second-cut instead of the rough and patrons instead of spectators. I’ve never understood why those two terms in particular bother the masters of The Masters. Sort of surprised they’re all right with Jim Nantz’s traditional hokey opening of “Hello, friends.” Friends seems a bit too familiar, something you’d hear at other, lesser tourneys, something sponsored by a car rental company. I’d suggest something like “Hello, comrades,” although the Soviet connotations with that word might not go over well on the Augusta grounds.
Rain could cause issues for the first two days – so we might see even less action than normal – but the weekend should be sunny. The players have speculated about what the wet weather could do – make it easier for longer hitters and less experienced players who wouldn’t have to deal with the greens at their most treacherous. Maybe those conditions will let a lesser-known player rise to the top, at least for the first few days, robbing us of our dream ending, whatever that entails.
But no matter who’s in the lead on Sunday, whether it’s a Who’s Who on top of the leaderboard or a Who’s That?, I’ll watch all five hours of coverage. And the whole time, I’ll be wishing I could watch it for 10 hours.