10 years ago, Mattiace was dashed by destiny

It never was there. Then it was. Then it wasn’t.

We’re talking his chance at victory at the Masters, and 10 years hasn’t softened many of the emotions that carried Len Mattiace through those frenzied final hours at golf’s greatest theater. Inexplicably, Mattiace and Destiny danced like Astaire and Rogers under a brilliant sunshine that April Sunday in 2003, at least until the music cruelly stopped.

Nine behind through 36 holes and five back to start the final day, Mattiace never saw it coming, this mad rush toward a green jacket. But magic happens at Augusta National, and though the results have been cemented into the record books – Mattiace making double bogey on the first extra hole to lose to Mike Weir – what remains are sentiments ranging from satisfaction to heartache.

“It was prime time. He was right there,” said Jim McLean, then Mattiace’s swing coach and still one of his best friends. “Then, heartbreak. Unbelievable. I don’t think there’s a bigger difference between first and second in any tournament like there is at the Masters.”

Now 45, Mattiace is on the Web.com Tour, working toward the PGA Tour. “I’m still passionate about golf,” he said, “and my game is as good as ever.”

Fate teased him that Sunday 10 years ago, but it isn’t what sidetracked Mattiace’s career.

“It was the ski accident (in late 2003 that damaged both knees),” McLean said. “He’s never been quite the same. But Lenny has the greatest attitude of anyone I’ve ever met in my life. There is something real special about Lenny.”

Ditto that final round of the 2003 Masters.

• • •

When rain washed out Thursday’s play, Mattiace and everyone else went into marathon mode. While the unheralded pro opened 73-74 to sit miles behind Weir’s lead at 6-under 138, he had made the cut in his first pro start at Augusta.

“I’m very close to my family, and my brother, Bob, had come up. He had a good time Friday, so he stayed Saturday. When I made the cut, he said, ‘I’m taking the week off,” Len Mattiace said.

A third-round 69 got Mattiace into a share of eighth, but at level-par 216 he was five behind the leader, Jeff Maggert, who was two clear of Weir.

“We weren’t thinking winning,” Bob Mattiace said. “Maybe top 15 and get back the next year.”

When Mattiace pitched in for birdie from short left of the green at the par-5 eighth, he was 3 under. “Then he birdied 10 and I said, ‘Holy smoke. This could be a great round,’ ” Bob Mattiace said.

At 13, more magic: Mattiace, off a hanging lie, hit a brilliant 4-wood to 6 feet, made the eagle and roars erupted. “I knew it was a great day, and at that point I knew I was in the zone,” Mattiace said.

He birdied 15 and 16, and at 8 under your leader of the 67th Masters was a man who played well below the radar, though his talents were at their zenith. Having won twice in 2002 and soared to 57th in the world rankings, Mattiace “was on top of his game, and this was a sensational story,” McLean said.

But taking Mattiace to the threshold of something that hadn’t been done since 1978 – shooting 64 on Sunday to win the Masters – Destiny dropped her dance partner at 18 tee.

“I hit my drive a little off the heel, and it faded right,” Mattiace said. McLean still grimaces. “It doesn’t usually kick right there, but his did. He was screwed.”

Today, Mattiace looks big-picture. True, his only bogey of the day came at 18, but closing with 65 to get to 7 under? “You have to be crazy to think negatively on that,” he said.

McLean agrees. “He had shot 65, and it was going to go down in the annals of Masters lore as one of the greatest final rounds,” he said. “But that’s not how history goes.”

No, it doesn’t, because Weir, like Mattiace, was on top of his game, too, “arguably the best wedge player in the game back then,” McLean said. Birdies at 13 and 15 pushed the diminutive Canadian, then 10th in the world, to 7 under. He held firm coming in, capping his bogey-free 68 with a sliding 7-footer to save par at 18.

After his bogey at 18, Mattiace waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. As he went to Butler Cabin, observers slapped his back and congratulated him. Then he went to the practice range with McLean for some quiet. “We talked, I hit some ‘focus’ shots and then some ‘loose’ shots,” Mattiace said, and McLean tried to put out of his mind something he had been told by longtime friend Ken Venturi.

“He told me that in playoffs, the guy who finishes first loses most of the time,” McLean said. “I knew that but didn’t say anything.”

The playoff, starting at No. 10, was over quickly and lacked drama. Mattiace’s second shot, again off a hanging lie, went slightly left, but kicked badly and was stymied by a tree. Mattiace pitched out, then ran his attempt at par well past the hole. When he missed that one, too, Mattiace had opened the door for Weir, whose three-putt bogey was enough to win.

It was a clash of emotions.

“I felt for Len,” Weir said. “Even given the celebration of the moment for me, I still felt for him that day.”

Mattiace maintained composure for a while, then unleashed emotions of heartache as he stood with wife Kristen. Ten years later, though, Mattiace feels pride. “I think about how great a tournament week that was for me,” and he rejects the notion that things would have been different in his career had he won.

“People say good things would have happened, but I don’t know about fate,” Mattiace said. “I don’t necessarily agree. Some bad persons have won tournaments, so go figure.”

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