For Perry, no ill will after 2009 playoff loss
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It is a different year, a different feeling and, unfortunately, a different game. The vibe is not exactly the same for Kenny Perry coming into this Masters.
And it has nothing to do with his painful playoff defeat here a year ago.
Perry insists he returned to Augusta National this week with nothing but fond feelings for the place and the tournament, despite the cruel way in which he failed to win -- which would have made him the oldest to ever win a major championship.
He did win later in the year and still had high hopes for this year, but things got off to a bad start in Hawaii when his putter broke just five minutes before his opening tee shot to start the 2010 season.
Trying to get it right has been a struggle for Perry ever since, and lackluster results have followed.
"It will get in your psyche a little bit," said Perry, who tied for sixth at the SBS Championship but has not finished among the top 30 since. "And that will funnel down into the rest of your game. You get so frustrated with your putting, it funnels right into your long game."
Perry figured to get a boost by returning to Augusta National, where the feelings are understandably bittersweet after what happened here a year ago.
"I wouldn't be human if I didn't have any emotion," Perry said. "But like I said in the past, I don't have any ill feelings about that deal. I don't have any sadness. My comment is I smile every time I think about Augusta.
"It was truly a remarkable week for me. It was a perfect week. It didn't end the way I wanted it to end, but yet, for 70 holes, I played flawless golf. I had a game plan, stuck to it, and it was perfect."
That game plan changed at the 17th hole, where Perry understandably fell into the trap of trying to protect. Two pars, he figures, and he wins the Masters.
"I should have thought: Let's hit the drive, let's do what we have been doing for the past week and a half, because I went in four days early and played practice rounds the week before, played the holes, thought about the holes, the feeling inside myself, not think about the lead or nothing.
"The 16th hole, I hit the greatest shot of my life and might have been totally different if I had not hit it so close, that 8-iron that I thought I almost made on 16.
"But you know, it was just -- I had my kids there, everybody was there. It was just truly remarkable. It just didn't end -- Cinderella didn't get the slipper, but it was really a neat week. How can you not reminisce?"
Perry has taken ownership of the situation, not even lamenting the incredibly good break that Cabrera got on the first playoff hole.
The Argentine hit his tee shot on the 18th hole into the woods, and his second shot clanged off a tree and could have gone anywhere. It landed in the middle of the fairway, and while Cabrera did well to get up and down for par from there -- extending the playoff with Perry -- he was nonetheless the beneficiary of some good fortune.
"It was a good break, but you need breaks to win tournaments," Perry said. "When I look back, the thing that kills was my 3-putt on 13 when I knocked it on in two. I had about a 25-foot eagle putt and I 3-putt there. We can all look back and see where we ... I've had good breaks to win golf tournaments and I've done things to lose golf tournaments.
"[Cabrera] still then had to hit a nice shot from the fairway and then he still had to make a 7- or 8-footer there, straight down the hill, glassy putt, knowing I've almost chipped it in and I've got it stone dead. He knows he's got to make it to continue on. My hat was off to him. He did a great job."
The nuances of Augusta National
There is a reason why only one player since the early days of the Masters -- Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 -- has won the Masters in his first attempt.
Learning how to play Augusta National takes time.
Jack Nicklaus, who will hit the ceremonial first tee shot on Thursday morning along with Arnold Palmer, told a story about his first Masters in 1959 in which he had eight 3-putt greens in 36 holes and missed the cut, despite hitting 31 of 36 greens in regulation.
Palmer had hit 19 greens in regulation through two rounds but was leading the tournament.
"I said you'd better learn how to chip and putt and understand what happens on this golf course,'' Nicklaus said. "That's what I learned. I learned by watching and seeing what people did. You didn't have to hit every green. And you had to able to learn how to admit this.
"This is a golf course you have to manage around the greens. You have to think your way around this golf course.''
Steve Stricker concurs. The No. 2-ranked player in the world has made just four cuts in nine appearances at the Masters but did tie for sixth last year.
"I was very uncomfortable the first few years here,'' Stricker said. "I haven't played well here in the past. There's a lot of little things you need to know. I was talking to [Scott] Verplank as we were going around [in a practice round], I told him, 'It's like cramming for a test.'
"Because no matter where you chip from or putt on the green. ... odds are, you are not going to be there. And just moving over five feet, 10 feet, changes the whole dynamics of the green when you putt or chip. It's hard to get it all down.''
So you want to play ...
... Augusta National. Good luck. Who doesn't? Every golfer of every skill level or has ever witnessed the Masters in person or watched it on television dreams of playing the storied course that was founded by the legendary amateur golfer Bobby Jones in the early 1930s.
And that, again, points out a great dynamic in play. The Masters is the most public of events, viewed around the world. But the club itself is as private as it gets. You can't apply for membership, you must be invited. Money matters, but it is not the over-riding issue.
Bottom line, if you want to play Augusta National, you have to be fortunate enough to be invited to play as a guest of a member. Good luck.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies and Bogeys
1. Anthony Kim. His playoff victory on Sunday at the Houston Open makes him the rare American player under age 30 with three PGA Tour victories.
2. Ernie Els. He is the only player this year to enter the Masters with two victories on the PGA Tour.
3. Tiger Woods. For the first time, he took questions about his absence from the game. For now, it's back to golf.
1. Vaughn Taylor. It's hard to fault Taylor for his runner-up finish in Houston, where he made a birdie to force a playoff. But he was oh-so-close to qualifying for the Masters in his hometown event.
2. Less is more. We understand the Masters mantra, but who among us wouldn't want to see wall-to-wall television coverage of the tournament?
3. Vijay Singh. The 2000 Masters champion was looking forward to another shot at the green jacket after a promising start to the season, but had to withdraw from the previous three tournaments with a back issue that does not bode well.
• Since the Official World Golf Rankings came into existence in 1986, Angel Cabrera was the lowest-ranked player to win the Masters. He entered last year's tournament at No. 69 in the world.
• If a third straight international player wins the Masters (following South Africa's Trevor Immelman and Argentina's Cabrera), it would be the first time since 1988-91 for such a streak. Then, it was Scotland's Sandy Lyle, followed by England's Nick Faldo in consecutive years and then Wales' Ian Woosnam.
• Last year's playoff was the 14th in Masters history and the eighth since the format changed to sudden death. It was just the third with three players -- 1979 Fuzzy Zoeller, Tom Watson, Ed Sneed; 1987 -- Larry Mize, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros; 2009 -- Angel Cabrera, Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell.
• Phil Mickelson has had a strong run at Augusta National, with 12 top-10s in 16 appearances as a pro. He's been in the top-10 in 10 of the last 11 years, including two victories. He finished fifth last year.
• Tiger Woods, who has four Masters victories, has 10 top-10s in 13 appearances as a pro after his sixth-place finish a year ago.
• Interesting that Ernie Els, a two-time winner this year in Florida, was not brought to the interview room prior to the Masters. Perhaps that is good news. Neither was Zach Johnson, Trevor Immleman or Angel Cabrera before their victories here.
"That first tee, I'm looking forward to it. I haven't looked forward to that tee shot in a long time, not like this. It feels fun again. That's something that's been missing. Have I been winning, have I been competing, have I been doing well? Yeah, I have. I've won numerous times the last few years but I wasn't having anywhere near the amount of fun. Why? Because look at what I was engaged in. When you live a life where you're lying all the time, life is not fun. And that's where I was. Now that's been stripped all away and here I am. And it feels fun again.''
-- Tiger Woods on returning to golf at the Masters.
Catching up with the '09 champ
Angel Cabrera added a second major championship to his résumé when he captured the Masters last year in a playoff over Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell. The victory was a surprise given his relative lack of form coming into the tournament -- similar to the story that played out in 2007 at the U.S. Open, where Cabrera won his first major at Oakmont.
Cabrera added two top-five finishes last year on the PGA Tour while also maintaining European Tour membership. He ended the season 25th in the FedEx Cup standings.
This year, Cabrera enters his title defense having not done very much. After a tie for 10th at the season-opening SBS Championship, his best finish is a tie for 25th. He was tied for 73rd last week in Houston and had a third-round 77.
Horse for the Course. Tiger Woods. Yes, he hasn't won in five years, but since his victory in 2005, Woods has gone T-3, T-2, 2 and T-6. And he does own four victories at Augusta National.
Birdie Buster. Ernie Els has performed poorly at Augusta in recent years, but he finally enters the tournament with some confidence, having won twice this year, the only player on the PGA Tour to do so.
Super Sleeper. Steve Stricker. Hard to consider the No. 2-ranked player in the world a sleeper, but he's made just four cuts at Augusta in nine appearances.
Winner. Padraig Harrington. The Irishman has yet to put it together this year, but he's been on the verge of contention nearly every week and has plenty of tournaments reps coming into the Masters. A victory would give him the third leg of the career Grand Slam.