Mickelson wasn't the only one coasting toward northern Georgia. "Five years removed, it seems as if it's normal now," Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, says of his annual trip to Augusta National. "But there was also the security that came with winning. I've won five times since then. It's an honor to be a part of that fraternity, and it's also the confidence that comes with winning."
Had Els won the 2004 Masters, he would own three quarters of a career Grand Slam. Instead he is forced to relive his Masters suffering. Though Els, 42, said he would not ask for an invitation, a campaign on his behalf is under way in some circles, including Augusta's hometown newspaper. A columnist wrote in last Saturday's Chronicle, "The greatest South African champion will take his honorary place on Augusta National's 1st tee with his Big Three mates. The newest South African superstar will be serving braai to his fellow Masters Tournament champions. What's currently missing for the 76th Masters is the bridge between Gary Player and Charl Schwartzel—Ernie Els."
Beyond the results in Houston, a glimmer of hope remains. In 2002, Augusta National awarded an international exemption to Norman, six years after his Sunday collapse against Nick Faldo and three years after his near miss against José María Olazábal. Norman was 47 and finished 18 shots behind Woods.
Els, like it or not, now occupies Norman's hard-luck place in Masters lore. His invitation will come down to the wishes of Masters officials or the whims of his putter.