It doesn’t get much better than this, I thought, as I stood on the veranda of the Augusta National clubhouse looking across to the first tee from where Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell set out around noon for the final round of the Masters.
There was not a cloud in the sky. A massive crowd in multi-coloured polo shirts and shorts had gathered to see the dramatic finale. As the day wore on and the beer took hold, the American cheering and hollering intensified and resounded from one |corner of Augusta to the other.
Augusta is steeped in golfing tradition. Two young men from Northern Ireland have added their names to the 70-year-old roll-call of great players who have graced the most pampered, manicured course in the world.
Neither came close to winning the Masters this year but both know they will be back and have a much better idea now than they had a week ago of what it takes to wear the green jacket.
They made the final cut of only 50 players. McDowell played with Tiger Woods in front of a huge gallery on Saturday and ended as the leading European. McIlroy was lying in sixth place at one point on Friday before enduring a couple of calamitous mistakes.
Rory McIlroy found his finest form too late. He played the last nine holes at Augusta yesterday in an incredible 31 shots. He had six birdies in the last 10 holes and a measure of his brilliance around Amen Corner and the closing holes was that only one other player all weekend equalled his 31 score.
He was also the third longest hitter at Augusta averaging a driving distance of 293 yards, some 15 yards further than even Tiger Woods.
Graeme McDowell finished in 17th place to McIlroy’s 20th. Both narrowly missed out on the automatic invite to return next year which goes to the top 16 on the leaderboard. McDowell won 116,000 dollars and McIlroy 71,000 dollars, but the real prize for them has been to experience the unique atmosphere of Augusta.
Drama and emotion. Joy and despair. The last hour of the 2009 Masters had it all.
Golf can be a cruel game. It was no more so than yesterday when Angel Cabrera won the Masters title despite his ball clattering against a pine tree on the final hole.
One by one, America’s golfing heroes, including a hapless Tiger Woods, fell at the feet of the Argentinian, Cabrera who plodded on relentlessly, refusing to give in, and somehow summoning up the nerve to steal the title in the nail-biting play-off.
Rory McIlroy showed his steel yesterday and on Saturday by coming back from the catastrophic experience at the 16th and 18th holes on Friday when he dropped five precious shots.
How much closer he might have been to the leaders yesterday, had he not lost those shots, we can only surmise.
When it ended in the glorious sunset of Easter Sunday evening in Augusta, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell had not won the Masters title but they had won many admirers and without doubt would be back to challenge|another day.