Spectacular moments can be the hardest to find words for. Sunday at the Masters Tiger Woods hit a chip shot that's already the stuff of legend. But you wouldn't have known why from the way the AP first reported it, describing it as "the shot that swept down a ridge and funneled its way slowly into the hole." Not until 622 words later did the AP story capture one of the chip's most salient features: "The ball ... caught the slope at just the right place before taking a right angle turn toward the hole. It was still about 25 feet left of the hole when it began rolling slowly toward the pin." That's the first clue the reader got that Wood's shot wasn't aimed at the pin, but required an incredibly roundabout way to get there.
Without providing any detail, a New York Times columnist did better simply by referring to the chip shot as "slithering." Tom Boswell of the Washington Post gushingly, if not entirely clearly, wrote, "Woods holed an almost impossible chip, after a 25-foot side-hill break with the ball toppling into the hole after pausing for a second on the edge." The Post's Leonard Shapiro said the shot involved "using the sloped bowl around the green to funnel a shot back to the flag."
For the most vivid account, disconcertingly, one had to rely on the Post's resident clown, Joe Achenbach: Here's the perfect description he provided:
"...Tiger's off the 16th green in the rough, he chips the ball not toward the hole but way left of it, up onto a high point of the green, where the ball stops, and then slowly begins to roll and weave and wander its way back down the slope, toward the hole, as though it smells it. The ball seems to be out of gas but keeps rolling, and finally reaches the lip, and stops, and for two seconds it doesn't move, and then it drops, for birdie."
Now that's good writing. It could be taught in journalism school. But there's one problem. It's not clear Achenbach is impressed at all. The rest of his entry is a postmodern riff about how corporate forces used powerful magnets to steer the ball into the hole in order to raise the value of Woods's endorsements. It can't be a spectacular moment if it's a joke.
So far, outside of Comedy Central, no one has treated another recent spectacular event quite as cavalierly. But it's still anyone's guess what impact Pope John Paul's death and funeral will have had on the media that gave up more than an intense week of their lives to cover. We know one thing already, though. Prince Charles's wedding couldn't have come soon enough. It made few theological demands on the journalists and cameras assigned to it. But I did hear that Katie Couric was genuinely moved by the funeral on St. Peter's Square. You never can tell.
But then there's Frank Rich. No matter how moving an event, or even life-changing, it seems the left can always be counted on to regroup and fight to reclaim whatever territory it lost. Thus Rich celebrated his return to the New York Times' op-ed page -- an expanded Sunday edition at that -- to attack "the Schiavo-John Paul double feature," which he characterized as a politically exploited theocratic celebration of the "culture of death" that is now starting "to inflict damage on the living," among whom he includes himself, presumably not for all eternity. It's safe to say he wasn't moved by what he saw from St. Peter's Square. "We don't know the identity of the corpse that will follow the pope in riveting the nation's attention," he concludes with his trademark sweetness.
About the only competition Rich had came from the British Guardian's rabidly anti-Catholic Polly Toynbee, one of those female columnists Susan Estrich would impose on the Los Angeles Times. "How dare Tony Blair genuflect on our behalf before the corpse of a man whose edicts killed millions?" her column began. She compared John Paul II to Lenin, because "both put extreme ideology before human life and happiness, at unimaginable human cost."
Most interesting, though, was her claim that "the millions pouring into Rome (pray there is no Mecca-style disaster) herald no resurgence of Catholicism." They just want to have something to tell the grandchildren about. We'll see. But strange she would even bring up the possibility of Catholic resurgence in a Europe that already has been written off as post-Christian.
Spectacular events have consequences. Last week wasn't a fireworks show. Surely what we saw will have longer-term effects than even Tiger Woods' chip shot for the ages. At least if Joel Achenbach doesn't weigh in.