The nation’s eyes will be on Amen Corner and Augusta National this weekend as someone not named Tiger Woods will slip on the coveted Green Jacket after winning the Masters.
Granted there won’t be as many watching because America loves Woods and everything about him, but it is still the Masters and there will be plenty of story lines to follow.
Will one of the young players like Jordan Spieth step up and become the “next big thing?” Perhaps Phil Mickelson still has a little magic left in him after winning the British Open last year and will claim his fourth Green Jacket. Or will a relative unknown step into the forefront this weekend and stake his claim in golf’s history books.
When the final putt hits the bottom of the cup Sunday evening, it will signal there is just under two months until the best golfers in the world make their way to the Sandhills for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
The last time the event was held at Pinehurst, Michael Campbell shot an even-par 280 to edge Woods by two shots in 2005.
And before Campbell became a “one-hit wonder” and faded into obscurity, Payne Stewart’s legacy was etched in stone when he sank a 15-foot par putt to win his second and final U.S. Open in 1999 on the famed course. As his putt inched closer to the hole, Stewart pumped his right fist and raised his right leg, then watched the ball disappear into the hole.
That moment is now forever memorialized with a statue on the Walk of Fame overlooking the 18th green.
Stewart’s famous reaction was not the only snapshot for the ages on the course that day. After beating Mickelson by one shot, Stewart walked over to his fellow competitor, grabbed him by the head and shared a special moment.
Despite being in contention for what would have been his first major championship of his career, Mickelson’s thoughts weren’t totally on Pinehurst and the field. Instead, he was focused on his wife, Amy, who was back in Arizona and moments away from bringing their first child into the world.
Stewart, a father of two, consoled Mickelson with words only a parent could share, “You’re going to be a father!”
While it is highly unlikely the drama in this year’s U.S. Open will match that from 15 years ago, it should be fun to see if it can.
Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.