It was Sunday at the Masters and the two biggest stories were unfolding at the same time at opposite ends of the spectrum.
On the second hole, the two hottest golfers on the tour were just at the beginning of their duel for the right to wear the Green Jacket at the end of the day.
On the final hole, the man who has been the symbol of the sport, one who had five of those Green Jackets, was completing a grueling and courageous effort that few people ever thought would be possible.
Tiger Woods was walking up to the 18th green amid cheers and applause from those behind the ropes and others sitting in the stands. A loud salute of appreciation for the truly brave four days of golf and strenuous walking up and down the hills of the Augusta National terrain.
Meanwhile, the battle for the 2022 Masters championship was taking shape with significant developments early in that final round.
25-year old Scottie Scheffler started with a three-stroke lead over Aussie Cameron Smith. But Smith got off to a hot start with birdies on the first two holes, narrowing Scheffler’s lead to one.
Scottie’s chip on 3
Scheffler who stretched his lead to seven strokes the day before, was watching his advantage practically evaporate right out of the box.
It appeared the golfing audience was in for a taut-tight struggle to the end.
And why not?
Scheffler came in as the number 1 ranked golfer in the world thanks to victories in three of his first five tournaments of the year.
Sporting the green jacket
They were his first pro triumphs, starting with the Phoenix Open on Super Bowl Sunday, and certainly not his last.
Smith, however, was almost as impressive coming into the first major of the year, having won three of his first five tournaments.
The stage was set.
The anticipation of this year’s Masters, always at a high level was dramatically heightened when Tiger Woods journeyed to Augusta on the previous Tuesday to play the course to see whether he might compete.
Just the prospect of whether he might play bordered on the unthinkable.
Less than 14 months ago, his car careened down an embankment outside of Los Angeles in a single-car accident that could easily have killed him.
There is no question, he was driving at a high speed, for whatever reason, but the fact remains, it was a horrific accident.
Woods’ right leg and foot were mangled in gruesome fashion and doctors were close to considering amputating his leg.
Soon after, the question was more about whether he would ever walk again, than whether he would play golf.
The sentiment was, if he could one day play golf with his son, that, in itself, would be a major triumph.
But Tiger Woods, as we’ve discovered in so many instances, is not ordinary or average, in any sense of the word.
Quietly, without fanfare, Tiger began a mammoth rehabilitation project, aided by his support team, which he has talked about every time he has spoken on the subject.
The daily drama leading up the Masters was simply what would he decide.
It came down to a “game-time decision”, and when the dust cleared, Tiger Woods was in.
Then, it became a matter of how he would perform?
Could he make the cut after Friday’s second round and play the weekend?
Tiger makes the cut
As to who would be crowned champion, experts had a long list of the young guns who had the stuff to survive.
We all know who the usual suspects are, and a case could be made for each one of them.
But it was Scheffler and Smith leading the way, and all of a sudden, a walk-in-the-park for Scheffler became littered with obstacles.
After the birdies on the first two holes, came perhaps the first of two pivotal holes. It isn’t often a telling moment of a championship comes this early in a final round.
But this one did.
Scheffler, seeing his lead in jeopardy, the New Jersey native who grew up in Texas, saw his approach shot fail to land on the green and roll down a hill.
Smith with a golden opportunity to keep the pressure on, then missed his approach.
But Scheffler chipped up and onto the green, before his ball struck the flagstick and dropped into the hole for a birdie.
Smith with an identical shot, saw his attempt roll by the hole. Two putts later, Smith had a bogey, and the lead once again was three.
Scottie had blunted the momentum of his challenger and his lead was never smaller than three into the back nine.
Then, the coup de grace.
Smith’s tee shot plopped into the water on the par 3 12th hole and the hopeful from Down Under wound up with a triple bogey.
From then on, it was basically a coronation for Scottie Scheffler.
The final hole, itself was not without excitement.
Rory McIlroy, who has been in search of his championship form from the past, finished in spectacular fashion by holing out a difficult shot from a green side bunker that rolled down the ridge into the cup.
Rory’s amazing bunker shot
That gave the Irishman a 64, the lowest final round ever at Augusta, and second place behind the champion.
Scheffler, himself, strung the audience out with a four-putt on the final hole.
It wasn’t that long ago, at the Ryder Cup, last September, that Scottie Scheffler, a captain’s pick, proved to be a stalwart performer in the resounding USA victory.
It was Scheffler, who whipped the then number 1 world player Jon Rahm.
Now, number 1 in his own right, he captured his first major,
By the time, Scottie Scheffler was putting on his Green Jacket, 46-year old Tiger Woods was gone from the scene. Apparently going through ice cold freezing baths to reduce the swelling, which marked his time between rounds.
Yes, there were four rounds of golf for Woods, who reached down with his incredible determination and mental toughness to make the cut after Friday’s second round. Tiger was one over par after 36, good enough to play on.
Cheers for Tiger on the 18th
The likes of Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau did not.
Watching this legendary competitor walking, in obvious discomfort, was at times, painful to even watch.
Often, he would carry a wedge, or his putter from one green to the next tee for support.
No one has any clue what he was going through making his way around this arduous course.
So, the unexpected return of golf’s magnetic force coming back from a near-fatal accident, to the most-heralded of all the major championships will share the spotlight when the history of the 2022 Masters is written.
Let’s salute them both.
And the champion, Scottie Scheffler.