2005: Masters - Augusta passion play

It was the raw emotion of it all.

It was raw emotion that made this Masters a memorable golf tournament and served as a major reminder that golf truly is a reflection of real life.

We hear the cliche ­– “Golf is like life” ­– and sometimes we laugh or scoff at its simplicity.

Still, it’s true. Not only that, but golf is the best sport on earth precisely because of its emotional content. Golfers act like real people, constantly dealing with success and adversity and wearing their emotions without disguise.

Former Masters champions Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh may have looked as if they wanted to pulverize each other over spike marks, but eventually they made peace. Along the way, they pushed their emotions to the extreme.

Playing together in the final round of the Masters, they walked to opposite sides of the first tee. They looked as fierce as mortal enemies, although finally they ended any appearance of a standoff with a quick embrace on the 18th fairway.

As Mickelson and Singh quarreled in public, it was clear that golf remains a game of individuals. In the beginning, they made little effort to hide their animosity toward each other.

After the tournament was over, Mickelson tried to close the door on the episode.

“We laughed, we giggled, we had a great time,” said Lefty, dodging questions about their cat fight.

Sure, and George Bush sang in the choir last week with John Kerry.

There is little deception in golf. There is no hiding in the middle of the fairway. The passion and fury are right there in plain sight.

When Tiger Woods cried at the awards ceremony, hundreds of fans were crying along with him.

“Every year that I’ve been lucky enough to have won this tournament, my dad’s been there to give me a hug. He wasn’t there today,” said Woods, who had difficulty speaking the words. “I can’t wait to get home to see him, to give him a big bear hug.”

An ailing Earl Woods made the trip from California to Augusta, but wasn’t strong enough Sunday to make the short trip from the rented house to the golf course. Tiger told the crowd his father was “just hanging on.”

As shadows fell on Augusta National, it almost seemed the big shadow of Earl Woods was there to witness the repeat coronation of his son.

Never has there been a more emotional major champion than King Tiger IV, whether he was pumping his fist in celebration or cursing a bad shot in disgust. He is the golfer his father raised him to be.

All this was real-life stuff, and it reflected the essence of the game, the tournament, and, yes, life.

The courage and resilience of runner-up Chris DiMarco, the assuredness of low amateur Ryan Moore, the adversarial relationship of Mickelson and Singh ­– it was all part of what made Sunday at the Masters a special and unforgettable day.

There was no hiding the emotion that separated Mickelson and Singh and ultimately, walking up the last fairway, brought them together again.

Mickelson and Singh had been at odds since the second round, when Singh asked officials to check Mickelson’s spikes. Singh had seen spike marks on the 12th green, and he suspected they were left by Mickelson, playing in front of him.

Two rules officials approached Mickelson on the 13th hole; both determined that his steel spikes were appropriate. Thirty-three players in the 2005 Masters wore steel spikes.

“There’s nothing wrong with telling somebody they’re spiking up the greens,” Singh said. “You’re just protecting the field out there.”

Later, when Mickelson confronted Singh in the Champions Locker Room, the two exchanged harsh words in front of several other former Masters winners. It was not a pretty picture, although it was a slice of real life.

Fred Couples said with wonder, “I’ve been here (in the Champions Locker Room) since 1992, and I’ve never seen anything like that.” Billy Casper asserted that other players would have separated the two had it been necessary. Jack Nicklaus watched the showdown without uttering a word.

At the end of the day, Mickelson exposed Singh by issuing a statement saying the incident was handled in a disruptive, insensitive fashion. He was correct.

“It’s a little thing,” said at least one observer. “A footnote to the tournament.”

No, it’s not a little thing. These are two of the top four golfers in the world. When they act like they want to beat the balata out of each other, it is a big deal. The most important thing, of course, is that they regained their senses and their composure.

The truth? Mickelson and Singh don’t particularly like each other. The final round overflowed with tension. They greeted other with a perfunctory handshake, wishing each other well, but what they really wished was daggers.

That Singh and Mickelson were paired together Sunday was something of a mystery. It appeared that Mark Hensby, not Singh, should have played with Mickelson. After 54 holes, Hensby and Singh had the same totals, although Hensby had finished earlier in the third round. Will Nicholson, chairman of the Masters competition committees, called it an “act of God.” This meant it was luck of the draw, although it occurred to some people that maybe God was intent on promoting a new friendship between the two.

Good luck.

By the time Mickelson and Singh reached the final fairway, worn out by bad golf shots, they shared a little embrace as if to say, “It’s over, let’s move on.”

Does this mean they will send Christmas cards to each other? Probably not, because life doesn’t work that way. Does it mean these two rivals will attempt to become closer to Woods, creating a truce among three golfers who are widely separated by personality and disposition? No, it doesn’t.

Golf allows us to be ourselves. It allows us to be friendly, to be competitive, and to express our emotional selves. At the Masters, what we got was a large dose of emotion.

Fans went to the year’s first major championship to watch golf, but real life broke out. Imagine that.

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