A first birdie of the day on three. A first Augusta Sunday Tiger roar.
It’s an earthy roar, the sort that comes up through the ground and rumbles through your boots. Breakfast beer feeding an already boisterous crowd.
“It’s Tiger at Augusta. On a Sunday. In contention. Why would you not follow him round?” says just about everyone.
Thousands are tracking Tiger Woods’ every move round Augusta National, hoping to witness the writing of another glorious sporting chapter.
From hearing people trying to keep cheers to a respectable level, to the careful planning needed to catch a glimpse of a shot and the realisation you have witnessed something special, this is what it was like following Woods on his way to his first major victory since 2008.
The whoops & the swarming masses
There is chaos as early at the second with marshals trying in vain to halt the swarming masses moving from the first green to second tee, with Aaron Wise, Marc Leishman and Si Woo Kim trying to tee off between the two on the ninth.
Wise makes a foolish call and hits anyway. He pulls his drive left.
While Woods is knocking in birdie at seven, the patrons watching from just down the hill are oblivious to Kiradech Aphibarnrat teeing off right next to them on the third.
And so it continues. The patrons, largely respectful, but trampling all over Augusta National.
The atmosphere is incredible round Amen Corner. Overnight leader Francesco Molinari dumps his tee shot into the water on the short 12th.
There are a few whoops and hollers but one over-exuberant patron shouts his approval with a “Go Tiger” added on. The cigar-toting beer-drinking man is immediately confronted by a marshal who firmly tells him that kind of behaviour is not acceptable and moves him along.
It’s blood in the water for Woods. I’m probably 20 back and can just about see the top of his head. He strikes the ball with a nine-iron. Almost before it’s off the tee there’s a shout of “get in the hole”.
The culprit is standing three yards in front of me. He’s also right next to a marshal and a security guard. Augusta National do not tolerate that kind of shouting either and he too is led away.
Thankfully they are relatively isolated incidents.
Moment Woods draws level with Molinari
While Molinari double bogeys the 12th, Woods two putts for par. The second stroke is received with as much gusto as if he had birdied. The patrons know how significant a par it was. Their man has drawn level with the Italian.
The stands empty out as the players head to the 13th tee. Woods, Molinari and Tony Finau are the final group out. So the crowd swells with each passing hole.
I don’t see the drive on 13 but I know Woods is in the fairway. The cheers tell me that. I also know Molinari is in a good spot. The Open champion has his supporters.
There is zero chance of getting close to the 13th green to watch one of the most iconic shots in golf, over the creek on to the green to set up an eagle chance.
Standing on chairs & trying to see past umbrellas
It’s tough following Tiger. You have to reconcile yourself with the fact you won’t see many shots but it is enough for most to simply be in the presence of a sporting legend.
For some it was a like a military operation, presumably months in the planning, working out which side of the fairway to be to get prime access to greens and the next hole.
For others, it was about always being on the move, staying ahead of the game, missing the odd hole to ensure an optimum view later down the line.
A brief downpour hampered many with huge Masters green and white umbrellas blocking out much of the 13th green.
A couple tried standing on their chairs in front of the packed grandstand on the 14th – another act frowned upon – but they were getting away with it.
Others were on tip-toes, clinging to Georgia pines, taking advantage of higher ground but so far away they were relying on those closer to relay, via roar, if Woods eagled.
A challenge from Koepka & Schauffele?
The groans speak volumes. Molinari’s missed eagle putt is understandably greeted more joyfully. The Italian had his fun back in July at Carnoustie but now we are in Woods backyard.
The leaderboards suggest Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele may also have a say in the outcome. The Woods fans are having none of it.
This is his time. This is their time. Time to see the four-time Masters champion edge one closer to Jack’s Augusta National record. And also move within three of Nicklaus’ record major haul of 18.
I meet three guys who have flown in from Los Angeles and New York. Chris tells me his wife is also on the trip but “she didn’t fancy the early start so she’s stayed in bed” and will join them later. I know.
Another Molinari mistake
Molinari, a machine all week with just one bogey in his first 54 holes, makes another mistake. This time it’s terminal. His third to the 15th joins the turtles in the pond protecting the green. Stifled cheers greet the news.
Another birdie for Tiger. He’s now three clear of Molinari but the threat comes from elsewhere. World number two Dustin Johnson sets the target at 12 under.
Woods loads up at 16, the scene of ‘that shot’ from off the back left that led to his last Masters win 14 years ago.
He’s long. But the patrons know where this ball will end up. The traditional Sunday pin is at the bottom of the slope. Gravity takes over and the ball feeds back down, encouraged all the way by thousands of fans. A tap-in birdie. Fourteen under par. Leader by two with two to play.
Savouring the winning moment
There is a dawning realisation of what we are watching. The players emerge out of that bottom corner of the course. Woods steely-faced, almost unchanged from the first tee. Molinari looks like he could cry.
A par on 17 for Woods. A bogey at the last will win the Masters.
He doesn’t make it easy. A chunked second on the 18th leaves him with work to do. But the chip is decent and Woods doesn’t three-putt from 14 feet.
The outpouring of emotion on the green is matched by the cries of “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger” off it.
He’s come full circle. Twenty-two years ago he won his Masters and hugged his dad, the driving force behind the young Tiger, as he left the green.
On Sunday it was a hug for his mother. And his own children. The emotion of it all overwhelming.
He lets out his own roar. A real Sunday at Augusta Tiger roar as he walks off.
It’s been a special day and one that will live long in the memory of all those here to witness it.