Klein: 2011 Masters already feels historic

Tiger Woods walks with his caddie Steve Williams and Martin Laird to the 16th green during the final round of the 2011 Masters.

Tiger Woods walks with his caddie Steve Williams and Martin Laird to the 16th green during the final round of the 2011 Masters.

I’m exhausted. Five hours glued to the TV. More players than I can ever remember with a share of the lead. Birdies and eagles flying. And if not quite out of nowhere then sneakily from the side, someone for the first time in the history of the professional majors birdies the last four holes to win.

Who conceives these scripts?

Every year, viewers sit down to this ritual telecast – the culmination of a week that is golf’s equivalent of a High Holidays service. For this one they bring in the special priests and rabbis and have them pour syrup over everything. It’s not enough to have the proceedings blessed by Jim Nantz. No, for this one they evoke memories of hallowed sports events by conjuring up the voice of Pat Summerall for intros. And then they manage to let the golf speak for itself, with the first 64 minutes of Sunday’s telecast run commercial-free and audiences enduring the combined sponsorship of IBM, AT&T and Exxon Mobil only 18 times during the entire five-hour show.

For the first time in golf history, I wished they had more ads. I needed more time than they afforded to negotiate the 64 steps downstairs to the refrigerator and back without missing any action. By the time Tiger Woods whipsawed that 8-iron onto the sixth green – the only man to play the hole correctly all day – for birdie, you could tell this was going to be a wild afternoon.

After third-round leader Rory McIlroy and playing competitor Angel Cabrera birdied the seventh hole, Peter Kostis asked, “Does it get any better than this?” That certainly made more sense than David Feherty’s later analogy to the day’s furious action as akin to “a hot-air balloon race” where the contestants had to throw everything out of the basket.

For sheer tragedy, McIlroy’s collapse was evocative of Greg Norman’s 15 years ago. And as things became officially unglued during the ugly triple bogey on the 10th hole, Nick Faldo, the beneficiary in 1996 of Norman’s self-immolation, pointed out in thoughtful terms that only he can know, how “pressure finds your weakest point” – by which he meant McIlroy’s draw. It was so much more thoughtful than to hear mindless analysts chirp – as they will Monday – about the leader “choking.”

Kostis, too, rose to the occasion, in a thoughtful post-round interview with McIlroy that both handled gracefully. It was quite the contrast with how twice during the weekend, Woods nearly snapped Bill Macatee’s head off when the CBS interviewer asked him pointless questions behind the 18th hole.

Throughout it all, we were able to track the fireworks – a tribute to the telecast and the quality of the golf. I thought The Masters of 1975 and 1986 were thrilling. And they were. But I don’t recall ever seeing so many players from so many countries having so many good chances to win on the back nine. “Every continent but the Arctic and Antarctica are represented on the first page of the leader board,” Feherty said as the drama unfolded.

OK, the Arctic isn’t a continent, just an ice sheet. But we were watching golf, not Geography 101. It was the kind of telecast where, midway through, you knew that you also were watching history.

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