Monday, April 14, 2003

Two bad holes equal Maggert meltdown

The Tennessean

AUGUSTA, Ga. - By now you know Mike Weir claimed the green jacket. He won it on the first playoff hole as the sun was casting its shadows between the Augusta National pines. But as Len Mattiace drove down Magnolia Lane Sunday night, he knew he had done all he could.

Earlier, his emotions boiled over. He cried. Memories of a lifetime mixed with the present.

We in microwave America often have difficulty remembering who finishes second, but Len Mattiace may be an exception. He showed us how important getting to that stage is.

He was strong enough to overcome the disappointment of being just one shot out of the lead of The Players Championship before hitting his tee shot on the No. 17 island green into the drink in the final round of that tournament in 1988.

His mother had followed him all day. She was confined to a wheelchair and battling incurable cancer.

She would die soon afterward and it took him months to deal with her death.

"All the family support, and friends I've had," Mattiace reflected as his voice cracked and his eyes watered Sunday. "I'm a very lucky person to have had all that. I was brought up to love the game, have loved it since I was 8 years old. I grew up playing the game. The game was in me."

There were obstacles getting to this point. After playing in his first Masters in 1988, staying in the Crow's Nest and thinking he would take the PGA Tour by storm, Mattiace lost his Tour privileges two years later.

He won them back through qualifying school, lost them again before another trip to Q-school put him back in business in 1995.

He won twice last year, one being the Fed-Ex stop in Memphis. They were his first Tour victories after eight years.

Still, everyone was looking elsewhere here last week.

At the end of a long week, there was no Tiger Woods. No Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, or Vijay Singh.

Instead, there were two of the more obscure figures in Masters' history standing on the No. 10 tee, trying not to be the first one to flinch.

Even in defeat, Mattiace came away with a keen feeling of fulfillment.

"A day like today means I've been doing the right things," he said. "My game showed up today and I was on all cylinders. My focus was to put it all together and I was able to do that."

While Weir officially became the first left-hander to win the Masters, Mattiace joined him, albeit in kindred spirit.

"I'm a left-hander, too," Mattiace revealed. "I do everything but play golf left-handed."

They wrote a Masters' script no one envisioned. It was one that made up for a lack of heavyweights with a passion for the pros who grind it out week to week.

Mattiace will carry this forward.

"It's a great thing to know that you executed your plan," he said.

"One is going to win. One is going to lose. I know that."

So, don't worry about Len Mattiace. He is fine with that.

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