Len Mattiace lost the Masters on Sunday. He bogeyed the 18th hole to fall into a tie with Mike Weir. Then he double bogeyed their only playoff hole, allowing Weir to collect a green jacket with a mere bogey. A half-hour later, as Mattiace tried to talk about the traumatic experience, he broke down sobbing. For minutes, he couldn't stop crying or even raise his head.
Was he devastated by defeat? At 35, after dreaming of this day since he was a child, after battling a decade of disappointments to become a solid PGA Tour pro, had he seen his crowning moment ruined by poor plays? Hardly. Different men win in different ways, sometimes even when they lose.
"This is the most special I've ever felt. This day proved to me I could do some great stuff," said Mattiace, who shot a dazzling final-round 65 that included six birdies and an eagle. "I basically executed my whole plan. I saw the completion of my mission. . . . Under the utmost pressure, that's all you can ask."
But what about all those tears? Didn't Mattiace wish he had chosen a more conservative 3-wood, instead of driver, off the 72nd tee? Perhaps if he'd looked at the leader board he'd have known his position better. But he never looked at a board all day until after he had driven off No. 18.
Didn't he wish he had putted more conservatively from 30 feet on the playoff hole (No. 10), lagging up for bogey, rather than blasting the ball 18 feet past the hole? Actually, Mattiace never did hole out on that final hole. He had already putted twice and was still four feet from the hole when Weir tapped in for bogey to end the agony.
Mattiace's tears were for none of those things. Instead, they simply reflected the enormous self-restraint and compressed intensity athletes must reach and maintain for five hours in events such as this. The tears were just a release after enormous willed composure.
"I think the game is emotional for the people who care. If you really want it and it goes to your heart, then your emotions are going to come out," he said. "All day on the course, you say, 'Stay strong. Focus, focus.' All that. Now that's it's over, it comes out. I'm sorry that it came out here."
Actually, he shouldn't be sorry at all. Everybody who cares about him expected he would leak a little. "You cried when our children were born," said his wife, Kristen, who has been through the hard times of 160th on the PGA Tour money list and two years when Mattiace even lost his playing card.
That brought a grin from Mattiace, who remembered how, when he got through Qualifying School to reclaim his card in 1996, "We both bawled."
Golf, like many things, exists on different levels for different people. Tiger Woods came here to fulfill his lifelong appointment with destiny by trying to win three straight Masters. Instead, he shot 75 and finished 15th.
For Weir, who has won more than $11 million on tour and ranks No. 9 in the world, this triumph was the next logical step in a progression he hopes wins him recognition as one of the game's elite players. Victory didn't surprise him, although even he admitted the six-foot par putt he made on the 72nd hole to reach the playoff "wasn't something I'd wish on anybody."
Don't look to the Canadian Weir for tears or, in fact, for much of any emotion at all. He is so regimented and ruled by ritual that if he ever stops his swing with his driver during his backswing, he doesn't just step away from the ball and address it again and hit. Weir goes back to his bag, puts the head cover back on his driver, puts the driver in the bag, then takes the head cover off the driver and starts his lugubrious routine all over again.
Mattiace lives at a different level of the game, a dignified one, but with different expectations and sources of pride. Had Mattiace won, he would probably have been remembered as the most extreme long shot ever to capture the Masters, surpassing Fuzzy Zoeller, Larry Mize, Tommy Aaron, Charles Coody and the like. Until '02, when Mattiace won two tour events and was 18th on the money list ($2.2 million), he'd never cracked the top 60. This season, until now, had been one long slump.
If Woods is a testament to golf genius and Weir an illustration of disciplined talent, then Mattiace is the epitome of doggedness. When he first hit the tour, it hit back. And knocked him flat. But he persisted.
"Being the college stud I thought I was [as an all-American at Wake Forest], I was expecting success to come a lot faster," said Mattiace. "Zip right into the pros. Win a tournament in my second or third year. Be in the top 30 every year."
In fact, 15 years ago, when those dreams still seemed realistic, Mattiace stayed here in the Crow's Nest above the Augusta National clubhouse. Little did he know that he'd never earn his way back to the Masters until this year.
At that '88 Masters, Mattiace learned for the first time that he loved the game a little too much for his own good, was moved by its traditions and lore to the point of distraction at times. Maybe golf really is a game for the robotic.
"I can still tell you every shot I hit in that Masters, which bed I slept in, even what I ate for every meal. And I got no sleep. I could go into it for volumes," he said.
For some players, runner-up in the Masters is not a defeat but a lifetime achievement.
"I gave it my all today," said Mattiace, who had never finished higher than 24th in a major tournament. "I was right there in the moment. . . . I heard the people cheering for me all day. Even without looking at the scoreboard, I knew I was doing something very, very good. And by the time, I walked off the 17th tee they'd let me know I was leading."
Mattiace was special indeed. At the eighth hole, he chipped in for a birdie. At the 10th, he sank a 70-foot putt for birdie. And at the 13th hole, he took the gamble of his life and made it pay off. Faced with a full 4-wood shot over Rae's Creek, he went for the par-5 green in two. "I hit a beautiful shot," he beamed. "Of course, one yard shorter, and it's in the creek. It's crazy stuff on this course."
His ball ended 10 feet from the hole. Mattiace drained his eagle putt and took the lead alone. At the 15th and 16th holes, he made two more birdies -- the one on the 16th after he seemed almost paralyzed with anxiety on the tee, looking at the pond, before carving an iron shot 10 feet from the hole.
If Weir had missed his own par putt at the 18th, all of golf might -- right now -- be watching replays of Mattiace's gutsy seven-foot bogey putt on No. 18. We would be calling it the shot that won this Masters. In fact, you'd have been hearing that Mattiace overcame the biggest deficit after 36 holes in Masters history (nine shots).
But that's not how the cold-blooded record book will tell the tale. There, all men are equal, as though levels of talent and expectation are identical for everyone and only a number next to your name really matters.
Anyone who watched Len Mattiace "lose" the Masters on Sunday knows differently. "This was," Mattiace said, "my best Sunday ever."