A tradition unlike any other in a year unlike any other. With all of the pandemic-related postponements and cancellations, the sports calendar is way off kilter in 2020, including the most prestigious golf tournament in America played in November instead of April. No azaleas blooming at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, but fall foliage instead. No patrons, either.
I'm not a big golf watcher, but given the unique nature of the event, and the fact that there really wasn't much else on, I tuned in for almost all 72-holes of coverage. I didn't get up at 4am (for the 7am Eastern Time first tee-off), but the television was on for several hours Thursday through Sunday. The Masters and Pebble Beach are my favorite tournaments, and while I don't always watch all four days of each event, I do pay attention, and watch the final rounds most of the time.
Because I don't watch a lot of golf, I have to admit I don't know all the rules. I learned on Friday when one of the pre-tournament favorites Bryson DeChambeau lost his ball after his second shot on the third hole, that the penalty for losing a ball is going back to the tee of that hole and starting over, but taking those preceding shots with you. DeChambeau ended up with a triple-bogey and fell out of contention, even though the lost ball was only a few feet from the fairway. TV cameras didn't catch it, but fans would have if they had been allowed. Tough break.
Consistency is the key, though, and you don't have to know a lot about golf to know that. Australia's Cameron Smith shot under 70 in all four of his rounds—the first to ever do that at Augusta, but still didn't win. He tied for second, which is a pretty good payday.
The best way to win (and this is overstating the absolutely obvious), is to just go out there and be good. Two of Dustin Johnson's four rounds were 65s, which is seven under par. Add a 70 on Friday and a 68 on Sunday, and you get 20 shots under par. If that sounds like a lot, it is. That's the best Masters score ever by two strokes (Tiger Woods at -18 in 1997 and Jordan Spieth in 2015), and ties the best-ever for a major tournament. His second 65 came on Saturday and gave him a five-shot lead going into the final round, and that's how many shots he won by.
The tournament began with an almost three-hour rain delay on Thursday. The weather was nice the rest of the way, but the rain seemed to soften the greens and lower the scores. It gets dark earlier in November than it does in April, so a staggered start was used. Some golfers began on the tenth hole instead of the first. The announcers were also saying that shadows were more of a factor than usual, and of course the lack of fans made for a different vibe and a quieter course.
There were some other highlights and lowlights. Tiger Woods had a bogey-free first round to be among the leaders after the first day, but then quickly faded. After a (-1) 71 on Friday and an even par 72 Saturday, disaster struck Sunday when it took him a personal-worst ten shots on the par-three twelfth hole. Woods hit in in the water three times and took a septuple-bogey. I didn't even know there was such a thing.
Golfers everywhere could sympathize with John Rahm on Saturday. After a pretty good tee shot on the eighth hole, the number-two ranked golfer in the world shanked his next effort, and then followed that up by smacking the ball directly into a tree. From the ridiculous to the sublime, though, CBS showed a clip several times of Rahm hitting a hole-in-one on a practice shot at 16 prior to the start of the tournament. It is a must-see on YouTube. He skipped the ball across the pond several times, and it ended up rolling into the hole.
Perhaps the best feel-good story of the tournament was 63 year-old Bernard Langer becoming the oldest to make the cut at a major. He finished in the middle of the pack at three under, but ahead of DeChambeau and Woods, just to name a couple.
One of the traditions of the Masters is the green jacket, presented to the winner by the previous year's winner (above photo). Johnson, when interviewed by CBS inside the famous Butler Cabin, seemed pretty composed when talking to Jim Nantz and tournament president Fred Ridley, but completely lost it later when interviewed outside by CBS' Amanda Balionis. It was the first time that Johnson had won a Masters, and he'll be looking to repeat in just a few months when the tournament is scheduled to return to its normal April date.
Celebrity note: I'm glad CBS didn't make a big deal of this, but I didn't hear them mention it at all. The network did note that golfers can have only one family member as a guest, and Dustin Johnson's 'plus one' was his wife Paulina. Jim Nantz noted that both Johnson's parents and his wife's parents were in town, but did not point out that his father-in-law is hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Found that accidentally on Google, but kinda cool.
Way too early for football: This is hopefully a Covid-related sports oddity, but we're fearful that it's becoming a national trend. Last weekend (November 7), in USC's delayed season opener against Arizona State, kickoff was at 9am at the Coliseum. The game was aired on Fox in what they bill as their 'Big Noon' (Eastern Time) event. There were no fans in the stands, but games before noon local time are generally not done in any time zone (11am occasionally). Yesterday, UCLA's hastily re-scheduled game against Cal was a 9am kickoff at the Rose Bowl. This game aired on FS1, and, looking at that network's schedule, there appeared no real reason why it couldn't have started later.
This is our year: No one could confuse this for a championship parade for a second, but Spectrum SportsNet LA aired what they were calling a 'virtual celebration' of the Dodgers World Series championship. The one-hour program, which aired live on Wednesday and has been repeated several times since, was hosted by TV broadcasters Joe Davis, Orel Hershiser, and Alanna Rizzo, and featured Zoom interviews with several players. Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, and manager Dave Roberts were there throughout the program. Mookie Betts was there at the beginning, but had to leave early because of 'family duties'. Walker Buehler had a quick pop-in, and Kenley Jansen joined for the second half of the show. They also showed recorded congratulatory clips from LA mayor Eric Garcetti and city councilmember Gil Cedillos, along with the two men who have seen it all—Vin Scully and Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin.
TV Blunders for a thousand: While watching Jeopardy! on Friday, KABC-TV in Los Angeles aired a promo for tonight's (Monday's) show. In doing so, they had a shot of the three contestants that would be competing. You understand the problem? It means you just found out who won the match you were watching! I don't normally watch in southern California so I don't know if they do this every night, but it was quite surprising. You might want to look away if you see these promos in the future.
Get off my lawn!: We've seen people on both sides vote in record numbers this month, and that is to be commended, especially at the state and local level. Now that you've voted for Biden or Trump, your Congressional representative, City Council member, or school board candidate, please take down your campaign signs! The Halloween decorations also need to go while you are at it.