Monday, April 9, 2007

The 2007 Masters : Taming The Tiger

As Tiger Woods took his customary position atop the leaderboard at 3:10 E.T. yesterday afternoon, it looked like we were going to have the by now very familiar image of Tiger exchanging Green Jackets with Phil Mickelson in the Butler Cabin about four hours later... In a week full of surprises, the biggest surprise of the 2007 Masters came in the result: Tiger didn't win his 5th Masters title. Another big surprise was that defending champion Phil Mickelson didn't get into the mix at all - a triple bogey 7 on the first hole all but ended his chances at repeating.

Many familiar international players were amongst those with a real chance to win. Vijay Singh got to within two of the lead at one point before falling back. Retief Goosen led or shared the lead for much of the day before posting a three over par total. Third round leader Stuart Appleby was a page one presence the entire day. Padrig Harrington made a late charge, but never led.

A lot of less familiar names were there as well - The unhearlded Zach Johnson was on the leaderboard all day long. Justin Rose was within one stroke of the lead before a double bogey 6 on 17 ended his chances. Rory Sabbatini roared into the lead on 8th with an absolutely AMAZING eagle putt from about 65 feet. He was only one over the rest of the way, but still that only could get him a tie for second with Tiger and Goosen at 3 over par.

As for Tiger, he really didn't find his "A game" all week. Still though, Tiger has the most amazing will to win of any athlete I've ever seen. Even with his "B" or "C" game, he is someone to always keep an eye on because he can just will himself to wins. An amazing approach shot on the 13th hole set up an eagle, pulling Tiger within two of the lead at +3. A poor approach at the Par 5 15th all but ended his chances. Needling birdies, Tiger parred his final five holes to finish two back.

What amazed me the most about Sunday is that one player and only this one player seemed to have this calmness about him all day: Zach Johnson. Though not very well known, Johnson has quietly become a very good player on the tour as he's finished in the top 40 in earnings each of his four years. With only one win to his credit prior to Sunday, Johnson wasn't someone you expected to be in the mix, let alone thrive under the pressure. What ultimately gave Johnson the 2007 Masters title was that he and his caddy had a game plan for the Par 5's and he stuck to that plan. He also refused to fold under the pressure - then again, maybe he didn't feel the pressure as he didn't look at the leaderboard all day! Unlike most of the players, Johnson didn't try to reach any of the Par 5's in two shots - instead, he set himself up so that he would have confortable yardages for his third shot approaches. Johnson's plan worked to near perfection as he had 11 birdies and no bogeys on the Par 5's for the week. Johnson was in a pack of leaders at three under when he sank a short birdie putt at 13. He birdied 14 and 16 to pull to even par. Though he struggled on both 17 and 18 - missing both greens, he managed to only give up a stroke to par to finish at +1. The total of 289 tied with 1954 and 1956 for the highest winning total in Masters history. Congratulations to Zach on a job well done!


In other sports news, I had the rare opportunity yesterday to watch parts of every one of the 15 MLB games... so I took full advantage of it! Here are the highlights from the games I spent most of my time watching... Johan Santana of the Twins again proved he's unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball, allowing only one hit and striking out nine in seven innings of work in a 3-1 win against the White Sox. Livan Hernandez threw 5 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against the Nationals before the newly engaged Ryan Zimmerman broke it up with a double in a 3-1 D-Backs victory. Jeff Francoeur's opposite field double plated Brian McCann in the 8th inning to give the Braves a 3-2 come from behind win over the Mets. The Dodgers demolished the Giants 10-4, unbelieveably winning their 8th consecutive game at AT&T Park. Finally, David Ortiz broke out of his season-long slump with two homers and Curt Schilling pitched a strong seven innings to give the Red Sox a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers.

Tomorrow: "2 for Tuesday"...

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