Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Masters

The young lad with the white belt from last week’s column was back in the Dervan family household on Sunday night, back in time to share the Masters in all its glory on our high definition picture courtesy of Sky Sports.

The aspiring golfer – he’s still playing off scratch – had, like so many of us, switched allegiances from Rory McIlroy, seeking Ireland’s first Masters, to an Australian for the final round of golf’s greatest tournament.
After accepting that the green jacket wasn’t coming to the land of the green for another year, most Irish fans were happy to side with our cousins down under, many of whom we could lay claim to anyway.

My money, now that Rory was out with the guys finishing up their rounds as the leaders were on the driving range getting ready to play, was on Jason Day.

Two years after he almost won the Masters, there was something with Day’s eyes that told me he was ready for Augusta glory.  In fact, Day’s new routine involves closing those same eyes before his shots, emerging himself in a meditational trance and imagining the perfect marriage between the club and the ball in front of him.

It worked on Sunday for Day. Well, for most of Sunday.

At the 15th, with the green jacket in his hands and the world at the feet, Day landed a third birdie in a row. My man was looking good.

But such is Masters golf, it can all turn in a second. And it did.

A bogey at 16 and another on 17 followed. When he missed a birdie putt on 18, Day knew night had fallen on his Masters dream.

My young friend with the white belt had gone home at this stage, but not before telling me that Adam Scott would win a first ever Masters for the land down under. I didn’t believe him so I sided with Angel Cabrera, a man who looks like he eats two big Argentinean steaks a day and washes them down with his country’s finest red wines.
Scott, like my earlier viewing partner, had faith in his own ability. When he went a step better than compatriot Day and birdied the 18th, he too thought he had it won.

He even accepted an Aussie flag off a delighted spectator as he made his way to sign for his card and to wait for Cabrera and Brandt Snedeker to close out the tournament.

Then Cabrera, the only player left to challenge Scott, produced the most incredible chip to set himself up for a birdie on the 18th force a playoff for the Masters that seemed impossible when he was available at odds of 110-1 at the start of the week.

Another friend, one who had mocked my earlier message that I was watching the drama unfold with a real golfer in the living room, suddenly had to accept that the 2013 Masters was full of just that – drama.
And that is the beauty of golf’s marquee event. You just never know what is going to happen next on the most manicured fairways in the world.

And that’s why the only place better than sitting in front of your television on Masters Sunday must be sitting by that very same 18th green.

I’ve never had the privilege. It’s the one journalistic experience left on my bucket list, and maybe someday I will get there.

But I can tell you something for nothing. Watching the final holes of any Masters is as good a sporting experience as you will encounter anywhere in the world.

Long before Sunday night we’d witnessed drama. Tiger should have been disqualified for signing for the wrong score, and the young Chinese kid Guan should have been issued with a ticking off and not a one shot penalty for slow play.

But for all that, nothing compared to the final three holes of the 2013 tournament, two of them playoff holes.
Angel Cabrera almost did enough to win the green jacket for a second time. Adam Scott just about did enough to win it for a first time.

And the rest of us went home happy – or went to bed happy in Ireland in the early hours of Sunday morning.
As the celebrated Newstalk commentator and keen golfer Dave McIntyre put it in a tweet, the only disappointing thing about the Masters is that we have to wait another 12 months now for the next one. Bring it on.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views
SOCCER: The Scottish Cup semifinals had the monopoly on excitement over the weekend as both games produced 4-3 wins after extra time, for Hibs and Celtic respectively against Falkirk and Dundee United. Neil Lennon’s side will be favorites to lift the trophy and complete the double at the end of May, but Dubliner Pat Fenlon, a lifelong Celtic nut, may have other ideas. He is still hurting over last season’s Cup final defeat to Edinburgh rivals Hearts. And he seems to know what to say to teams at halftime in the Hampden Park dressing room. Hibs were 3-0 down at the break last Saturday, got a rollicking from their manager and won 4-3. Nutsy, his nickname of old, said the right thing that day, but I’m not sure I’d fancy being three down to Celtic at halftime next month.

SOCCER: Great story from Africa, where the football authorities in Sierra Leone have appointed little known Northern Irishman Johnny McKinstry as the manager of their national football team. McKinstry has his coaching badges and has been handed a trial period when he will take charge for World Cup games against Tunisia, Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea. McKinstry has been working as a coach with the academy set up by Welsh star Craig Bellamy in Sierra Leone but has little or no reputation as a manager despite spells working with the Irish FA in Belfast, Premier League club Newcastle United and the Major League Soccer team New York Red Bulls. How he progresses promises to make for fascinating reading.

GAA: The Irish government can’t wait to cash in on a return visit for President Barack Obama, but he might not be too popular with Fermanagh GAA fans. Peter Canavan’s team is scheduled to play the winners of the Cavan-Armagh game in their Ulster SFC opener on June 16, and the game should be played in Enniskillen if Cavan come through. Now it has emerged that the G8 summit at the Lough Erne resort outside the town will force Fermanagh to concede home advantage if the game clashes with the powerbroker’s conference. Fermanagh fans are none too happy at the prospect, and you can’t blame them.

GAA: It looks like Bitegate is going to go away. A week ago, Donegal were up in arms over claims that a Dublin player bit Paddy McBrearty on the shoulder during their league match in Ballybofey. Now it seems the GAA can’t find enough evidence against any Dublin player to take action, and we’ll never know who the Mike Tyson in the Dubs dressing room is.

RUGBY: The London club Harlequins have launched an investigation after their fans were outnumbered by Munster supporters for their recent Heineken Cup quarter-final -- at their home ground. The Quins can’t understand how so many Munster fans got their hands on tickets. Clearly they don’t understand Munster fans. Or know their history of outnumbering the home team’s support in Europe’s top club competition.

GOLF: Loved the pictures all over Twitter of the guy in the Kerry jersey at the Masters. His presence at Augusta went viral, but I’m not sure how a green and gold Kerry shirt would look under a green jacket! We’ll probably never find out.

SOMEONE tweeted on Sunday night that Stephen O’Neill put up some performance for Tyrone against Kildare for a guy who retired five years ago. The veteran forward is captain of a very young Tyrone team going places and if any of them can play as well as O’Neill did last Sunday, they will be serious contenders for Donegal’s crown this summer. O’Neill’s sidestep for one point was worth the admission price alone.

MILLWALL fans fought with each during the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Saturday, and Newcastle supporters fought on the streets with their Sunderland rivals after the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday. These idiots have no place in football, but until someone take’s serious action against their clubs they will continue to blacken football’s good name. Take the three precious points Sunderland won against Newcastle off them and it might soften their blows.