AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday? Try telling that to the front nine, which witnessed a two-man race between Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia from the opening hole. Indeed, the whole week was hardly a slouch, full of twists, turns and one nasty fall on the stairs. Here's a recap of the four days that were the 2017 Masters.
Sunday at the Masters
El Nino reigns in Augusta
Sergio Garcia entered the week the holder of many dubious marks -- among them, the third-most major appearances without a victory. Still, the golf gods tipped their hand early that they laid money on Sergio this week: His shots clung to banks, his putts lipped in. Then it all broke bad: Rose birdied three straight. Garcia bogeyed Nos. 10 and 11 to fall 2 back. It was like yet another sequel in a horror movie franchise. Then it wasn't: Garcia made an absurd par from an unplayable lie on 13, a birdie on 14, an eagle on 15 following a flagstick-grazing approach, and a raft of clutch shots up through the playoff that gave him a new mark: 19 Masters appearances prior to his first win -- the most of any player in history.
A Rose almost blooms
Rose seemed perfectly cast for the role of Sergio spoiler Sunday -- the plodding, steady-Eddie who grinds around the course before snatching victory from the jaws of Garcia (you know, this decade's Padraig Harrington). Rose is no slouch at Augusta National. He entered Sunday 18 strokes under par here since 2014. But in the end, whether it was his balky back, or just the cumulative effect of the body blows Garcia landed, Rose came up just a few putts short. Spoiler alert: There was no spoiler.
Matt Kuchar has a nice little moment
Here's why you never give up in life, kids. After bogeys on two of his first three holes, Kuchar was 1 over for the Masters, 7 shots off the lead. Then birdies at Nos. 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14, followed by a trickle-trickle-boom ace at 16, and Kuchar was at 5 under, tied for third. A failure to birdie the closing two holes meant Kuchar had to settle for a share of fourth place. But he did make one magical memory for a little kid in an adorkable Sam Snead hat.
Jordan Speith has super-bad hair day
Spieth entered Sunday gunning to be the youngest player to win three majors since Jack Nicklaus. It all went wrong from the get-go: A missed 5-footer for par on No. 1. Another short miss for par on No. 3. Bogeys on three of his first six holes. By the time his tee shot spun back into the water on the 12th hole -- as it did a year ago Sunday -- it was not so much that the wheels had come off for Spieth, but more that they were never on in the first place.
Fred Couples makes his generation proud
Did you find yourself this weekend yelling at all these damn kids to get off your yard (if by "your yard" you meant the grounds of Augusta National)? Then you surely took comfort in the front-nine of Freddy. Couples continued to rage against the dying of the light by posting birdies on four of the first eight holes Sunday. Sadly, bogeys on Nos. 11, 13 and 16 undid him, and he finished 1 over, tied for 18th -- but still No. 1 in the hearts of the salt-and-pepper set.
Russell Henley lives to fight another day
Russell Henley fans -- you know who you are -- have much to celebrate. Henley, who became the last man to qualify for this year's Masters by winning the Shell Houston Open a week ago, earned himself a return invite by the slimmest of margins. Each year, the top 12 Masters finishers qualify for the next year's event, and Henley sank a 5-footer on the last hole to earn a tie for 11th -- and a return stamp on his ticket.
Saturday at the Masters
The golf gods gave one back
After several lifetimes' worth of bad breaks, Garcia was the recipient of a break so good it carried historical echoes. Masters fans will recall how, in the 1992 final round, a Fred Couples tee shot to the par-3 12th clung to the side of the bank of Rae's Creek; Couples went on to make par and win. Saturday, Sergio's 4-iron to the par-5 13th also seemed destined for the creek that fronts that green, before it defied Newtonian physics. It clung to the side of the bank, and Sergio got up and down for birdie -- suggesting that the golf gods might finally had grown tired of giving noogies to the former boy wonder.
The Thrill had the Thrilliest day ever
If you're a fan of Phil Mickelson, you know what you've signed up for. If Phil has been anything over the past 25 years, it's consistently inconsistent. He lived up to that reputation Saturday, opening with two birdies (he's 2 strokes off the lead!) before posting, in the next seven holes, three bogeys and a double (he's 8 strokes off the lead!) He sputtered down the end, finishing tied for 21st, 8 shots back.
The end was unkind
The powers-that-be at Augusta National have long been all-powerful -- at least when it comes to what goes on inside the gates of their course. Case in point: No other venue can so precisely dictate scoring through pin placement and choice of tee box. Saturday, after rendering the middle of the round a cupcake (six of the seven easiest holes resided between Nos. 8 and 15), Augusta clearly wanted the end to hurt. And it did. The final three holes were the third-, fifth- and hardest on the course, with Spieth, Couples, Jon Rahm, William McGirt and Jimmy Walker all playing the stretch over par. It knocked a few of them out of contention. And somewhere, the overlords of Augusta were smiling.
Friday at the Masters
Hoffman remembered that gravity exists
For those who enjoy the suffering of others, Charley Hoffman's Friday round was your cup of mean tea. Hoffman had posted an absurd 65 on Thursday, on a day in which the scoring average was 74.98 (the highest opening-round average in 10 years). Friday, he suddenly recalled that the game of golf is hard, and bogeyed five of six holes from Nos. 6 through 11. He recovered, finishing the round tied for the lead at 4 under. But that 4-shot lead he had on the field Thursday night? Not so much.
Sergio was actually feeling ... happy?!?
Sergio Garcia leads the tour in the most dubious of stats: top-5 major finishes without a victory. He has 12 of them. But Friday he showcased the skills that would ultimately end that streak, posting top-10s in driving distance, driving accuracy and greens in regulation -- plus a buried-lie bunker shot on the 12th hole that Sergio declared "hands down" the best bunker shot of his life. Consider, for a moment, how many bunker shots Sergio has hit. That's a big statement -- and the kind of thing a golfer says when he's feeling good about his game.
Freddie fired up the way-back machine
The Masters is a time machine to the past. And so it was Friday for 57-year-old Fred Couples, recalcitrant spine and all. Freddie birdied four of his first seven holes on his way to a 70, leaving him 3 shots off the lead. For Friday, at least, until he fell back into the 21st century, Couples fans could party like was 1992.
Holy cow ... a Mid-Amateur champ made the cut
Since 1989, Augusta National has been inviting the prior year's USGA Mid-Amateur champion to play in the Masters. It was great, save for the fact that not a single one had ever made the cut at Augusta National. But Friday, 26 years of ignominy was erased by Mid-Amateur champ Stewart Hagestad, who finished the second round at 3 over for the tournament, tied for 18th place -- which was pretty much, for the Mid-Amateur, the equivalent of winning.
What did Rory do to offend the sky spirits?
Those golfing gods are nothing if not jerks, and they proved that yet again during the final hole of Rory McIlroy's round on Friday. After hovering between 1 over and 1 under all day, McIlroy struck a perfect approach to the 18th. It was the kind of shot that, in mid-flight, must have had him anticipating a kick-in birdie putt to finish under par, a mere 3 strokes off the lead. That perfect approach was, in fact, too perfect, striking the pin and careening off the green, leading to a bogey and a 2-stroke swing the wrong way.
The wrong side of history ...
There were a few mild surprises in the ranks of golfers who missed the 36-hole cut Friday. The loss of Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson and Jim Furyk were slightly less expected than the loss of Angel Cabrera, Bernhard Langer and Vijay Singh. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was the failure of defending Masters champion Danny Willett to make the cut. Willett finished at 7 over, 1 shot out of the weekend, and in doing so became the first defending champ to miss the cut since Mike Weir in 2004. Worth noting: On the opening hole Friday, Willett posted a quadruple-bogey -- which seems to be a thing, of late, for defending Masters champions.
Thursday at the Masters
Dustin Johnson's bad breaks? They were back.
Johnson found a whole new way to shoot himself in the foot at a major -- this time, by accident. After falling down a small set of stairs at the Augusta house he was renting, DJ's warm-up session Thursday was a Rorschach test: 300-plus-yard drives and a laconic demeanor almost impossible to distinguish from Johnson's normal laconic demeanor. Was he pained or just sleepy? Would he play or wouldn't he? When DJ walked off the tee prior to his round, two things were clear: One, no rental house in Augusta would ever again feature uncarpeted wooden stairs. And two, the Masters field, without the world's No. 1 golfer, was suddenly wide open.
Charley Hoffman did what Charley Hoffman sometimes does
Astute observers of the game know that journeyman golfer Hoffman sometimes does this thing: He goes super low for nine or 18 holes, and (since cutting his trademark mullet) bares, in those moments, an uncanny physical resemblance to a young Jack Nicklaus. At these times, one wonders, "Why has this man won only four times in 318 starts on tour?" That answer exists: Hoffman is a solid, low-launch ball-striker, but a middling-to-awful putter. When his flatstick gets hot, his birdies come in bunches. Such was the case on the Masters' opening day, as he birdied seven of his final 11 holes to post a 65, 4 strokes clear of the field.
The final ride of Arnie's Army
Augusta National is good at a good many things, but perhaps what it's best at is immortalizing the past. The tournament is best understood as a piece of performance art for The Way Things Used To Be. And for those of a certain generation, no man in Masters history expressed that sentiment more than Arnold Palmer. Thursday, from the teary-eyed ceremonial first tee shot to the "I am a member of Arnie's Army" pins distributed to all patrons, the Masters pulled out all the stops for Palmer, the showman with the leading-man looks who once put this sleepy Southern toonamint on the map.