Ah, the irony of it all. While the world No 1, Tiger Woods, was laid up on his sofa with a bad back at home in Florida, six old geezers who ought to have been pottering around their gardens did rather more than merely potter around Augusta National in the 78th Masters yesterday.
The Over-50s Club might not be as rock’n’ roll as they once were, but they refused to go quietly into the Augusta night, each of them making the weekend to play all four rounds. They are a league of extraordinary gentlemen. Please be upstanding (take your time, Tiger) for former Masters champions Larry Mize (1987), Sandy Lyle (1988), Vijay Singh (2000), Bernhard Langer (1985 and 1993), Fred Couples (1992) and Miguel Angel Jimenez – no Green Jacket but probably a wardrobe full of smoking jackets. Jose Maria Olazabal (1994 and 1999) is the baby at 48 years old.
Fifty-year-old Jimenez makes his debut on the oldies’ Champions Tour this week, also known as the Round Bellies Tour. It’s basically an outdoor retirement home with luxury fringe benefits and a never-ending pension fund. No need for a bus pass and a tartan shopping trolley for these wrinklies. But before he disappeared in a cloud of his own cigar smoke into the back nine’s Amen Corner, Jimenez was the leader of this groovy gang starting the final round at three under par – just two shots off the lead and with dreams of becoming the oldest ever winner of the Masters and racking up Ryder Cup points to try to make the team at Gleneagles in September. A fabulous top-four finish at four under par will help the latter.
Fred Couples was also in red numbers at one under par. Freddie is golf’s George Clooney. The side parting and blow-dried quiff from his Nineties prime are still there and it is still all his own. And he still has the look of a surf dude. Everybody loves Freddie. The 54-year-old has been plagued by chronic back pain his entire career. So much so, he pretty much plays in slippers to give his ailing spine a softer ride. He is so laid-back and makes golf look as easy as falling out of bed, it would not have been a surprise to see him saunter to the first tee yesterday in his pyjamas. He was still entertaining the prospect of victory on the eve of the final round. “I may need to shoot a silly number, though,” he said. He started his fourth round with two consecutive birdies. It was enough to make the patrons spill their mint juleps. He couldn’t do it, could he?
Langer, 56, was another reeling in the years with a birdie at the first and an eagle at the second. Vorsprung durch technique by the German.
Scotland’s Lyle completed his 100th round at Augusta. Unlike cricketers and their bats, there is no tradition in golf of raising your putter to the fans to signal your century. Just as well; he barely had enough breath left to make the climb up the hill to the clubhouse from the 18th green. “Physically, this doesn’t get any easier,” Lyle said. “From the waist up I still feel about 56 but my legs feel about 80. They’re just hanging in there.” Fair play to him for a creditable total of nine over par. The secret of his longevity? “Instinct with the wind,” he said. That’s old people for you. “If you’re a bit like a bullfighter like the young guns, you could get burnt pretty badly around Augusta,” he said. “So you’ve got to be patient.”
The highlights of his round were an eagle on the par-five 13th and a birdie over the pond at the par-three 16th. Delighted still to be competing at the Masters, Lyle has given up any hope of being called by European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley to be an assistant at Gleneagles. “I’m out of touch a lot of time with the European Tour and Paul has his own ideas,” Lyle said. “I don’t blame him. If he wants help, I’ll be there. I’ll still be involved, maybe on the corporate side, entertaining and passing on my experiences on the Ryder Cup.”
But one of the geezers couldn’t really win, could they? “If Miguel plays like he can and just potters around, he’ll start thinking, ‘I’m the one that could pull it off’,” Lyle said. “And If Langer has a mad last few holes, who knows? And then there’s Freddie.” A round of three under for Langer to finish even par. No third Green Jacket but great stuff. All power to his elbow – and aching knees.
The Masters really is golf’s version of Cocoon, where past champions are invited back each year to bathe in Augusta’s water of eternal youth and relive their glory days – as long as there are cold beers and chiropractors to keep them going.