Mattiace's major rally falls just short

Len Mattiace's scorecards
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Len Mattiace was waiting for the playoff to
start, putting between folding chairs, television cameras and a
wooden podium.

The Augusta National practice green was cluttered in preparation
for the green jacket ceremony. But Mattiace never made it back; the
Masters runner-up isn't invited.

He was that close -- that close -- to claiming golf's most prized
piece of clothing.

Despite one of the best closing rounds in Masters history,
Mattiace was tied with Mike Weir after 18 holes Sunday.

In the playoff, Mattiace struck his worst shot of the day,
winding up behind a pine tree next to the 10th green.

From there, things only got worse. He muscled up on a chip, the
ball racing past the flag and winding up on the far side of the
green. Then, an icy downhill putt that nearly rolled off the other
side. Finally, another putt hit too hard, the ball sliding past the
hole yet again.

Mercifully, he didn't have to take another shot. Weir tapped in
a bogey putt to win.

Mattiace broke down in tears, overwhelmed by the realization
that his best effort wasn't quite good enough.

''I love this game. I've loved it since I was 8 years old,'' he
said, rubbing his eyes. ''You're trying to get better and better as
a golfer. You're trying to reach new levels.''

For Mattiace, this was a new level. He shot 65 in the final
round of the Masters, quite an achievement for a guy who never
finished higher than 24th in a major championship.

His closest brush with fame in a major tournament came in 1988,
when he went to the 71st hole at The Players Championship just one
stroke out of the lead.

Mattiace was overwhelmed by one of the most famous holes in golf
-- the island-green 17th at Sawgrass. One shot into the water, then
another. When he was done, a quintuple-bogey 8, his chances of
victory at the bottom of the lake.

Mattiace managed to find some perspective when he looked over at
his mother, Joyce, sitting in a wheelchair, her body ravaged by
lung cancer. She died a few months later.

On Sunday, Mattiace was asked if she was watching over him.

''You're going to make me cry again,'' he replied. ''Yeah, she

Mattiace was playing at Augusta National for the first time
since 1988, when he made his debut while still a college student at
Wake Forest.

He never expected it would take 15 years to get back.

''Being the college stud I thought I was, an All-American coming
out of college, I thought I would zip right to the pros, win my
first or second year on the tour, hang around the top 30,''
Mattiace said.

Instead, he didn't qualify for the PGA Tour until 1993, three
years after graduating. He lasted only one year, dropping off until
'96. He finally won his first tournament at Riviera Country Club in
Los Angeles last year. Finally, he qualified for his second Masters

Through the first two rounds, Mattiace wasn't much of a factor,
shooting 73 and 74. He slipped in under the radar with a 69 on
Saturday, but still began the final round five strokes behind
third-round leader Jeff Maggert.

Then, Mattiace went out and shot the round of his life. Six
birdies and an eagle on one of golf's most challenging layouts.

''This day proved to me that I can do some great stuff,'' he
said. ''I was in a zone. I was hitting shots just the way I was
seeing them. That's all you want to do. It was a great feeling
doing it.''

The feeling wore off at the treacherous 18th, a hole that
bedeviled Mattiace all week. Needing just a par to equal the course
record for a closing round, his body flew open on the tee shot, the
ball plopping down on some wood chips to the right of the fairway.
He had to punch out and wound up making bogey.

At that point, Mattiace was still the leader with a 7-under 281.
While he was in the scoring hut going over his card, Weir made a
birdie putt at 15 to get to 7 under, too.

Mattiace made a brief stop at Butler Cabin, where the green
jacket is awarded, then headed to the practice range. The bleachers
were nearly empty, the sun setting behind him, as he struck a few
balls to stay loose. Then, accompanied by his caddie and coach, he
headed to the practice green, already set up for the champion's

About wedge away, the gallery roared when Weir sank a testy
6-foot putt to save par at 18, forcing the playoff. Fans scurried
down the fairway to get in position, but Mattiace never looked up.
He took a few more putts before a security guard summoned him to
the 10th tee.

''I was ready to go,'' he said, insisting that he wasn't hurt by
the 45-minute layoff. ''I knew one of us was going to win, one of
us was going to lose. I was OK with that.''