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Rubenstein: The Masters has become Messters

Amateur Guan Tianlang of China gestures after hitting his tee shot


Augusta, Ga. – This Masters has become the Messters. The mess started when the powers-that-be issued 14-year-old Tianlang Guan with a one-shot penalty on Friday for violating the slow-play policy in force. It continued and reached epic proportions after the Masters competition, effectively, rules committee, first concluded that Tiger Woods did not violate a rule that applied to his dropping his ball on the 15th fairway Friday.

The committee then learned that Woods had said in his press conference after the round that he dropped his ball beyond where the rule permits, and called him in for a chat Saturday morning. Woods, as all the golf world knows by now, and probably knew immediately, was assessed a two-shot penalty and played on. He shot 70 in the third round and sits four shots behind co-leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera as he starts the final round.

The controversy over the two decisions continues. Did the Masters pick on young Guan? Did it show favoritism toward Woods in allowing him to continue although he had signed for a score on a hole lower than what he made, which calls for disqualification? Did CBS influence the decision to invoke a relatively new rule that allowed Woods to continue? Now we're getting into conspiracy theory and conjecture. I refuse to go there. Who knows what went on behind closed doors when the rules officials reviewed the video of Woods's drop on the 15th hole?

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Woods certainly did not try to fudge the rules. As my colleague John Paul Newport, among the press corps' clearest thinkers, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, he was caught in a golf equivalent of the fog of war. Woods himself said he wasn't thinking clearly because he was irritated that his first shot into the 15th green slammed off the flagstick and ricocheted into water left of the green. Woods would have looked good had he chosen to withdraw rather than continue, for the simple reason that should he come from behind and win today, his 15th major victory will be tainted.


Meanwhile, it's Masters Sunday and I hope the conclusion will be memorable, as has happened so often here. I hope the afternoon will help us forget the mess for now, if not for the future, when it's sure to be a lasting subject of deliberation and confusion. As I'm writing, a couple of colleagues are standing to my right and discussing the Tiger ruling. It's non-stop here in the press building.

I decided this morning to get away from the mess for a while. Most every morning since Tuesday, I've gotten to the course before 7 AM. This morning I slept in until 8 and then drove east on River Watch Parkway, and turned onto Broad St. in downtown Augusta. I was looking for a couple of hours at the New Moon Café on this broad street that is a mixture of hope and despair. It once must have been a truly grand boulevard. Nowadays some broken-down establishments and buildings are cheek by jowl with elegant structures and funky spots to eat and drink. The area has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2004.

After parking in one of the angled spots on the double median in the middle of Broad St., I meandered for a while. I noticed the Buddha Lounge & Shoe Bar on the south side of Broad St., and peeked in. It wasn't open, but I learned shoes are indeed sold there, and that there's a Buddha statue in the place. Hookahs may also be available. Not hooks, but hookahs.

I was looking for the New Moon Café, my favourite café in downtown Augusta. It wasn't where I remembered it, but I did find it a bit further east on the same side of Broad St. It had moved into a new spot last August. The New Moon is one of a few cafes in these southern parts. I stopped in, ordered my café latte – yeah, I'm a purveyor of these fancy coffees as well as Tim Horton's back home – and set out my newspapers in a booth. I was a happy mister at the Masters – well, a few miles from the Masters, in what seemed like another world.

Locals started to wander in with the same idea I had, a relaxing time in a friendly spot. The New Moon's website quotes Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, "To affect the quality of the day, that is the art of life." Cafes affect the quality of the day for me. I'm addicted.

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I read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the special Masters section that the Augusta Chronicle publishes every day of the week. But I didn't read only golf. This was a "More to Life than Golf" (MTLTG) morning, as I later told John Paul Newport when I ran into him in the press parking lot. "Yeah, I need those too," he said. I caught up with what was going on with the perilous North Korea situation. I read about new spring books in The Wall Street Journal's excellent weekend Review section. I particularly enjoyed reading a review of a book called, simply, The Village. John Strausbaugh wrote this 624-page book about Greenwich Village. Sitting in the New Moon Café, well, I felt somehow right there in Greenwich Village. My mind wandered.

It was time to leave for the course. First I walked around Broad St. a bit more. My friend and colleague David McPherson, who was here for his first Masters and is now home in Toronto, told me about a café called Sit A Spell. Nice idea, although I didn't have time. But I did cross Broad St. and peeked into Sit a Spell. It looked inviting, with shelves of books and art on the walls. I'll be there next time. Thanks for the tip, Dave.

Now I'm back in the press building. Woods just arrived to the practice range. Rich Lerner on Golf Channel is asking whether this will be the first time he wins a major coming from behind. He tees off in 75 minutes. Snedeker and Cabrera tee it up in the last twosome in an hour and 40 minutes.

I was here in 1986 when Jack Nicklaus, then 46, shot 30 on the back nine to win his sixth and last Masters. I was here in 1996 when Nick Faldo shot 67 the last round while playing with Greg Norman, who had been leading by six starting the last round. I walked much of the last round with David Leadbetter, who was coaching Faldo then. He played a clinical round, golf as chess. Norman shot 78, while missing shots in all the wrong places. Norman never did win the Masters. An Australian has never won the Masters. Now, today, his fellow Aussie Adam Scott starts the last round a shot out of the lead. Aussies Marc Leishman and Jason Day are a shot further back.

A year later I was here to watch Woods play his first Masters as a professional. He shot 40 the front nine, had talk with himself on the way to the 10th tee, and shot 30 on the back nine. He won by 12 shots. Six years later I was working on a book about Mike Weir, who had won two tournaments heading into the Masters. The book was going to be called A Season in the Majors: Mike Weir in Pursuit of Golf's Ultimate Prize. Weir won that 2003 Masters. The title was changed to Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters.

Weir is gone from this Masters, having missed the cut 10 years after his glorious playoff victory over Len Mattiace. He'll continue to work hard and maybe he'll do better next year. As a winner here, he'll receive a lifetime invitation to play the Masters.

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As for this afternoon, let's hope it's something special. Not a mess, but a Masters to remember for all the right reasons. It's time to turn this Messters into the Masters.

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