We all probably remember that famous mantra that the young Tiger Woods lived by on the golf course:
"Second place sucks."
The Tiger Woods of 14 major championships—yes, that Tiger Woods, the Tiger Woods of the "Tiger Slam"—was all about winning and then some. Somehow, the red shirt on Sunday was brighter, the fist pumps more emphatic and his shouts of enthusiasm more electric.
It takes time to decompress from the Masters, time to sit back and really think about what happened, what we saw and how it all panned out.
You might think the most memorable moment of the 2011 Masters was Woods making eagle at the eighth hole on Sunday, the crowd letting loose like a volcano that waited too long to erupt. This was the old Tiger Woods, the Tiger Woods who would make a vintage Tiger Woods par save at the ninth. Surely this was the Tiger Woods who would do something Nicklaus-like on the back nine and add a totally new chapter and resurrect the legend.
When you head down the 10th hole at Augusta National, it's a climb downward into a giant bowl that houses the back nine. That bowl becomes a cauldron of pressure on Masters Sunday afternoon. Many contenders have taken the dive into that crucible; few have emerged with their names etched in golf history.
Woods stood there on the 10th tee with his destiny in front of him. This golf course, this tournament with a tradition like no other, is a layout that he knows like no other, embraces like no other and has made his personal stage.
Pars at 10 and 11 would serve him well. Surely, you thought, if he got past 12, he'd eat up 13 and 15 for sure and probably have a great shot at birdies at 14 and 16. The Tiger Woods that won those 14 majors would surely have made golf history. He'd shoot 31 on the back nine, set a new scoring record for majors with a 10-under par 62 and walk away with his fifth green jacket.
Woods would surely charge from behind the way Arnold Palmer did at Cherry Hills at the 1960 U.S. Open. Surely Woods would make his first-ever come-from-behind win in a major and erase that nasty statistic forever.
In the process, he'd thumb his nose at his detractors, he'd anoint Sean Foley as the next great guru of golf and things would be the way they used to.
This 35-year-old Tiger Woods found out at the 12th hole, the flattest, easiest green to putt on the golf course, that life happens. Stuff happens in majors. Woods would hit a perfect shot for the moment and then do something no one expected: He three-putted. That bears repeating. Tiger Woods three-putted the flattest green on the golf course.
No problem. He just took 62 out of the equation. Still, there were 13 and 15, two holes he has devoured over the years like a hungry man at a bursting buffet. Then life happened again. His loose shot at 13 left him struggling from over the green, and an uncharacteristically poor chip left him with a birdie putt that used to be child's play for him. He'd miss again. By now, surely we'd begun to realize that this is not the same guy who won those 14 majors.
No matter. There were still 14 and 15—plenty of time to restore the legend. Par at 14 added urgency at 15. Then, as he has done so many times before, he hits "the" shot. His second to 15 was the stuff that Tiger Woods used to be made of. He's so close that the guy who won this tournament in a runaway as a 21-year-old could virtually kick that one in for three.
Then life happened again.
You saw it, you'll remember it. It might go down as one of the most disappointing birdies in his career. It was there, in front of him.
By then, it was slipping away. There would be no memorable birdies at 16 or 17 or 18, and Woods would finish and get flippant with Bill Macatee in a curt post-round interview. The Tiger Woods who walked off 18 surely knew that 10-under wasn't going to cut it on this day, yet he acted hopeful that he was one behind at the moment.
Woods had walked all over the field on the front nine, and then he let a couple of Aussies and the unheralded son of a South African chicken farmer show him how it should have been done.
For goodness sakes, guys like Charl Schwartzel don't birdie the last four holes to win the Masters. That sort of finish was something that this Tiger guy could muster up, surely.
Now that the cooling-off period has settled in and Woods has flown his private jet to some destination in China where he's getting paid to hang out, it's strange to hear his take.
"I hit the ball really well on the weekend and made some shots," was his recollection.
"It was fun being in the mix. Unfortunately, didn't get it done."
Fun being in the mix?
Whatever happened to the Tiger Woods that declared, "Second place sucks?"
Say what you want, this is a different player. This is the player whose decline started when an unknown guy named Y.E. Yang basically took the 2009 PGA Championship away from him over the final 18 holes.
Woods hasn't been the same since.
While you watched him miss putts at the Masters he'd never miss, perhaps you wondered where the trusty little Scotty Cameron putter was hidden. Was it back in a closet in his Isleworth mansion? Even worse, has it been banished to the garage?
There was Woods, struggling with some foreign tool that has never won him a regular tournament, much less a major.
Sounds like even his own standards have changed.
"It was fun being in the mix..."
If second place sucks, then how does fourth place really taste?
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