"It was no accident that last weekend's Masters leader board was almost exclusively filled by players either exceptionally thoughtful or prodigiously talented or both."

Besides a nice rant about the modern ball (I always enjoy those), John Huggan makes a couple of worthwhile points when considering the play of Europeans at this year's Masters.

In defense of the current band of better-than-average European players, coming up well short (so far at least) isn't all their own faults. Tiger and Phil Mickelson apart, standing out from the pack isn't easy these days. Look at both the PGA and European Tours. So far this year, only South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els have won more than once on either. Parity is king. Of course, much of that all-too prevalent stalemate has been caused by the high level of quality control involved in the manufacture of today's clubs and balls. For one thing, bigheaded metal drivers have made mastering what should be the hardest club in the bag almost routine for virtually every professional. So separating oneself from the rest is more difficult. The deserved edge previously enjoyed by the likes of Greg Norman and Nick Price -- the best drivers of their generation -- has been diminished greatly.

And this about Augusta National's design and setup:

When those relatively unimaginative players -- their senses dulled by all of the above -- pitch up at a major championship venue like Augusta National (where short grass still prevails and many holes can be played in a variety of ways) they are suddenly faced with a test paper that is, to paraphrase the great Bobby Jones, "unfamiliar." It was no accident that last weekend's Masters leader board was almost exclusively filled by players either exceptionally thoughtful or prodigiously talented or both.

2010 Masters Images: How Do They Do It?

I always marvel at the post-Masters images because it's such an awkard tournament to photograph without inside-the-ropes access and the lens masters usually shoot from the same club-designated perches. But more than that, I'm always fascinated by the thought process of whether to shoot scenes like No. 18 tight or wide, as Robert Beck did with Phil's birdie putt on 18. Despite Jim Nantz declaring that final putt a no-brainer for Phil to have made (is there any automatic putt at Augusta?), Beck's instinct was to go with a wide frame shot, hoping for a great reaction from Phil and fans. It paid off with this week's cover:

GolfDigest.com posts their "outtakes" from the week, including this beauty from J.D. Cuban:

Golf Digest's Dom Furore also offers this exclusive look at Tiger's return:

Kostis: "I wouldn't be surprised if I'm interviewing a different Tiger Woods next year at Augusta."

I'd be surprised if Peter Kostis gets to interview Tiger anytime soon, but after essentially agreeing that Woods did a terrible job with the post-final round Masters interview and Kostis's solid questioning, he says we need to give Tiger time to become a nicer person.

Tiger will never become a robot golfer. Nor should he try to. I love that Tiger is passionate and expressive about golf and wants to play it as well as he possibly can—every time he tees it up. But telling people that he's going to consciously tone down his behavior sounds like Superman saying that he's going to wear a necklace made of Kryptonite.
Let's give Tiger some time see if he can change. If he can lose the cursing and the club throwing, but keep the passion and fire that helps make him great, then all will be well with the golf world.

I wouldn't be surprised if I'm interviewing a different Tiger Woods next year at Augusta. Between now and then he's got a lot of things to think about and a lot of stress to deal with inside the ropes as well as out.

Change takes time. Let's give him some.

2010 Masters Final Clippings, Vol. 3

Tod Leonard reminds us that Jim Mackay deserves plenty of credit for his work as Phil Mickelson's caddy, something we'd appreciate more if a certain announcer wasn't talking all over the Mackay-Mickelson conversations Sunday.

I guess I can see Steve Elling's point in praising Billy Payne's unexpected Tiger smackdown, even though I don't think he was the one to deliver the message.

One New York writer said Payne was a hypocrite, but he missed the bigger point. Unlike PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who has said nary a word condemning the destructive actions of his top breadwinner, Payne felt strongly enough about Woods' tabloid-filling actions to make a strong stand, knowing full well that ANGC's policies and history would again be called into question. For that, I give the club even more credit.

Mark Cannizzaro offers yet another example that the criticism of Tiger is growing more pointed by the day:

Mickelson's stock is decidedly up; Woods' stock is down.

Mickelson has everything right now; Woods has nothing but his money.

Mickelson is the most embraced figure in the sport; Woods has become toxic.

Mickelson has won two Masters since 2006; Woods has not won one since 2005.

Mickelson is revered; Woods is ridiculed.

Mickelson is wanted as a guest on all the late-night talk shows; Woods is the most popular butt of the jokes being told on the late-night talk shows.

Mickelson comes off as a real human being who cares as he looks people in the eyes, signs autographs and interacts with them; Woods comes off as unapproachable and enigmatic with a constant force-field of handlers surrounding him and keeping everyone at bay.

Mickelson is a big tipper, appreciative and generous with the millions of dollars he makes; Woods, the first billionaire in sports, is notoriously cheap.

So it seems cruel that Mickelson, who seemingly has everything in life, has been forced to struggle with cancer in his family.

Woods, on the other hand, would appear to have everything yet right now he seems to have nothing.

Elling also offered this in his all-Masters Up and Down column that also includes a funny Urban Meyer story:

In case you missed it, there was a telling incident -- actually, two of them -- on the same hole during the crucial moments of the final round that underscored all anybody needs to know about the mental wiring of the game's two greatest active players. Standing on the right side the 11th hole, a fan was hit hard in the left shoulder by Woods' sliced tee shot, leaving a large red mark. Woods wandered into the trees, never asked what had happened, and scraped out a par. Not 10 minutes later, Mickelson's tee shot hit a fan standing right next to the man Woods had plunked. Mickelson asked if anybody was hurt, and when he found the fan he had nicked, signed a golf glove and gave it to his unwitting victim. When asked if the fan said anything, Mickelson cracked, "Ouch?" Small wonder that the majority of the populace seemed to be rooting harder for Lefty on Sunday.

And Ron Kroichick joins the ever-expanding Tiger &^%$ list:

-- Quick conclusion based on Woods' first tournament in five months: He hasn't changed at all. He's still hot-tempered on the course and still a picture of narcissism off it.

One example: Saturday, after his third-round 70, he was asked if he could appreciate how cool a Masters this was becoming, given Watson and Couples and Mickelson's back-to-back eagles. The question was prefaced with, "I know you're preoccupied with your game, but ..."

Woods stared stoically ahead and replied, "There's a lot going on. I'm four back."

It's all about Tiger, all the time.

Preston Sparks follows up with the owner of the banner-flying business cited by the FAA at Augusta, who reveals he also got a call from the club.

Besides the FAA inspection, Miller said, "I had the Masters calling me personally begging what it would take to make the airplane to go away."

A club spokesman confirmed Tuesday that a call was made to Miller,  requesting  he not fly over anymore because the banners weren't in good taste.

Seems they got the plane back up and flying around Augusta yesterday with new banners.

Bill Simmons, who yesterday had visions of Billy Payne and Jim Nantz making out, interviews Nantz on his podcast and Nantz tells some great 1986 Masters stories. He also brings up the way Butler Cabin turns Nantz to "JELLO."

Sunday's Masters Numbers Better Than They First Appeared?

With Tiger's comeback and contention, I expected a little more from the preliminary number, but one thing stands out in CBS's updated reporting of 2010 Masters ratings:

An estimated 46.5 million viewers (Persons 2+) watched all-or-part of CBS Sports’ weekend coverage of the 2010 Masters® according to Nielsen Media Research.  The Network’s coverage of the third and final rounds of this year’s Masters on Sunday, April 11 and Saturday, April 10 was the most watched in nine years when 47.9 million watched all-or-part of Tiger Woods winning his second Green Jacket in 2001.  This year’s 46.5 million was up 11% from last year’s 42.0 million.   
Nielsen Media Research estimates CBS Sports’ final-round coverage on Sunday, in which Phil Mickelson won his third Green Jacket, was seen in all-or-part by 39.2 million viewers, up 11% from last year’s 35.2 million, which saw Angel Cabrera win in a two-hole playoff over Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell for the 2009 title. 

Here's the number caught my eye:

This year’s 39.2 million viewers was the largest number of viewers to watch all-or-part of CBS Sports’ final-round coverage of the Masters since 40.1 million watched Woods win his second Green Jacket in 2001.

So only 900,000 fewer than 97? Not bad considering there are at least that many who probably refused to watch because Tiger was playing. Oops, my mistake, 2001. Anyone know how many eyeballs tuned into the 97 telecast?

CBS Sports’ coverage of Sunday’s final round earned an average preliminary national household rating/share of 10.7/24, up 29% from last year’s 8.3/20.  Final-round coverage peaked with a rating/share of 13.2/27, with an average audience of 21.3 million viewers from 6:30-7:00 PM, ET, as Mickelson and Woods finished up their respective rounds.

Nationwide Manhunt Underway For Size 50 Jacket-Wearing Augusta National Member

The assailant's probably dead, but somehow he got his Green Jacket off the property and now it can be yours, assuming you can pull off a size 50.

Among the most defining garments known to professional golf is the renowned Green Jacket. Annually awarded, since 1949, to winners of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National, the Green Jacket is emblematic of the finest in the game. The tradition was derived, however, from a policy adopted by the club's management in 1937. Staff affiliates (advisers and security) of the Augusta National were attired in shamrock green blazers for the practical purpose of identification for patrons. And likewise, this tradition has continued into the present. 

Offered is one of the few known Green Jackets. The stunning garment measures to a size "50" and includes the following measurements: 35" from center of neck to end of sleeve and 35" from top to bottom. This jacket is 100% authentic and original. All of the original name tags and patches are intact including a patch with the serial number for the manufacturer.

Highlighting the front is an Augusta National patch. Apearing on the inner breast reginon are an Augusta swatch and Hamilton, Cincinnati manufacturer's patch.

While few of us will be able to secure a Green Jacket on the links, this provides one lucky bidder a chance to wear the famous prize.