On Thursday, Herald videographer Vince Johnson walked 18 holes with Tiger Woods. The following is his 'LIVE blog' of thoughts and observations throughout the round.
AUGUSTA - This is the moment. The moment Tiger has been preparing for the last eight months. The moment the world has been waiting to see if golf's transcendent superstar can regain his role as titan of the sport. Amidst a crowd obsessed with his every happening, I'm ready to follow Tiger, on foot, for all 18 holes of his first round at the 2009 Masters. Here we go.
- In the 30 minutes since Phil Mickelson finished his front nine, I've eaten a bar-b-q sandwich, a salad, and two bananas (for the potassium). I've also reapplied my SPF 30 sunscreen. I'm ready to go.
- Not surprisingly, Tiger receives the largest ovation of the day, and promptly crushes his tee shot left of the bunker Phil was in earlier today. A spectator yells, "Yeah!" If I were to yell something, it wouldn't be "yeah." I'd probably yell "salami," just so every time someone heard it on t.v., they would know it was me.
- As I walk up the first fairway, Par 3 Champion Tim Clark is the leader in the clubhouse at -5. Scoring seems to be about as easy as it gets at the Masters. There's very little wind, and the temperature is fantastic.
- Tiger is safely on the green in two, and by the way, he's playing with Stewart Cink and Jeev Singh (but you probably already know that if you have watched this on television).
- While he's lining up his birdie putt, I'm going to guess 3,000 spectators are around the green. Of course, I could be wrong. I've never been good at estimating.
-Tiger misses his birdie putt and settles for par. Looking at the leaderboard, Chad Campbell has birdied his first five holes. He definitely could be a factor this week. Several years ago, he was supposed to be one of Tiger's rivals. Now, the pressure is off. I'm just sayin'.
- Tiger puts his tee shot on the par 5 second deep into the woods on the right. A hoard of photographers run to take pictures through the bushes. Steve Williams asks them to be quiet, and then Tiger punches out between pine limbs. All in a days work.
- Tiger's third shot on two is a majestic, high-arching bomb that lands softly eight feet from the hole. I'm officially in awe. If I happen to win the media lottery and get to play the course on Monday, I don't think I'll be making that shot.
- The crowd following Tiger's group is ten times the size of Phil's earlier. I've heard several people say how amazing it is that Tiger plays as well as he does with that kind of pressure, and it's true.
- Tiger leaves his birdie putt short, and seems perturbed. A par 5 par is not what he wanted.
- Tiger's tee shot on the par 4 third comes to rest in the valley of the fairway beneath the green. As I'm walking, I see Statesboro photographer Frank Fortune changing the manuel scoreboard (I wonder how he got that awesome job.) I also see the concession stand, which is incredible at Augusta, but here are my thoughts on it. Food-wise, stick to the pimento cheese and bar-b-q sandwiches, with perhaps the tuna or egg salad thrown in from time to time. The cold cuts are just average, and the chicken filet is breaded and refrigerated (not the best combination).
- Tiger's approach on 3 roles to the back of the green, about 10 feet from the hole. He needs this, but he pushes it right and seems confused. The putter isn't rolling straight so far.
- As for his tee times, Tiger seems to have gotten lucky. Normally on the first two days, players play one morning round and one afternoon round. Today, the weather is pretty mild for an afternoon, and it's supposed to turn worse tomorrow, so he'll likely be better off in the morning.
- His tee shot on the par 3 fourth falls woefully short and lands in the bunker. He appears to have hit an iron while the others were hitting utility woods. He needed more club.
- Tiger's bunker shot is Tiger-esque - sand flies, and the Nike lands softly three feet from the hole. Another par.
- I step in the same mud I stepped in earlier walking to hole 4. Learn from your mistakes, Vince. Learn from your mistakes.
- Unlike Phil, Tiger hasn't talked to anyone other than his caddie since his round started. He seems focused, but I don't see 'another par' as Nike's next great marketing campaign. C'mon Tiger, we need some excitement!
- From the tee at four, Tiger's down the middle, but Cink is in the sand. It must be tough playing with Tiger, and before, I thought that came from Tiger himself. Now, I just think it's from all of the outside influences (crowds leaving often after Tiger plays, media exposure, etc.) that makes it so difficult.
- Tiger seems as comfortable as ever on his left knee. He's casually balancing on his left leg now, and with every shot, he put tremendous torque on it. He says it's not an issue, and I believe him.
- Tiger hits his second shot on the par 4 about 15 feet from the hole, 50 feet closer than where Phil chipped in from earlier.
- From the hill on 5, I can see through to 16. Phil is back to even par, but Furyk has surged to -4. For Tiger, it's another missed birdie putt and simple par. Ho-hum.
- The sixth is a tremendous par 3, probably my favorite hole on the front 9 thus far. Sloping downhill from tee to green, spectators are allowed to sit on the slope, shaded by the overhanging trees. The green is difficult, sloping left and protected by a large, white sandy beach, a beach of which Tiger has just visited.
- On the other hand, Singh sends his ball 18" from the hole. That's a nice song.
- Tiger catches his sand shot fat as observers think "Hey, I can do that!" (OK, that was me). He then misses his par putt, another thing with which I'm well accustomed.
- Tiger's now at 1-over, and with several players at 4 or 5-under, he needs to start making some shots.
- I stand right behind Eldrick on the seventh tee, and he rips a vicious hook into the trees to the left. As he walks toward his ball, the country of Switzerland crosses the fairway. While they do, he rolls his ball under the trees and into another bunker. This time, though, he escapes and finishes his par.
- While Tiger's now struggling a bit, my lips are starting to chap up, and I left my Carmex in the press room. Ugh.
- A long walkway to the eighth tee brings Tiger close to me and the rest of the fans. While walking, he hums "do do do do dooo." That's insider access!
- Singh's caddie is a women. That's rather rare.
- On the eighth tee, Tiger clears the trap by 10 yards, and outdrives his playing partners by 30. For his second shot, he takes his 3-wood and goes for the par 5 green. It looks good.
- In the meantime, I see Hank Haney, Tiger's swing coach (he's standing next to me).
- Tiger's ball is on top of a small hill 20 yards off of the green, but his shot just runs by the hole as he spins around like he's mounting a horse. Another missed birdie putt later, Tiger raises his hand in disgust and settles for another par.
- While Tiger waits to tee off on the par 4 ninth, his bag boldly proclaims "AT&T". That's should be the only "AT&T" reference on the course (cell phones aren't allowed on the course.)
- Tiger lets out some aggression on his perfect drive at 9, and then complains about the movement on his putt at 8 to Steve. Things aren't going his way.
- But that's a start. The crowd just gave Tiger his biggest ovation of the day as he send his second shot close to the cup. Steve's smiling, and Tiger's walking with more confidence up to the HUGE crowd at the ninth green. I'm 18 holes in and walking with less confidence, but this is the biggest crowd I've seen all day.
- Lining up for an important putt, Tiger barely gets it down inside right edge. Birdie number one for Tiger, he's now par for the tournament. That's seven shots behind Chad Campbell. Yeesh.
- I just pinched myself and realized I'm walking with Tiger at the Masters.
- This par 4 is the start of Amen Corner, and this is the first time I've seen it. The trees are tremendous, soaring well over 100 feet toward the heavens. A slight dogleg left, Tiger unloads into his tee shot down the middle. He may be "turning the corner," literally and figuratively, as his second shot gets a nice kick into the center of the green. He repeats his theme of the day, though, missing a birdie putt and settling for par.
- As he walks to the 505-yard par 4 11th, Tiger talks to Steve about playing from the ladies tees "only once." I don't know what he was talking about, but maybe, it was about that one time...at Stanford...I digress.
- Tiger has shipped his tee shot at 11 back to the lumber yard on the right of the fairway. It'll be a rough shot to the green with the first site of Rae's Creek to he left.
- But El Tigre nails it, weaving his Nike around and over a slew of trees, and onto the front edge of the green from over 200 yards away. Great shot!
- From a fan's perspective, the 11th green is tough to see from the ground. So a great hill covered my sight of the ball as Tiger missed his birdie, but I know he missed it because he grimaced one more.
- Then, someone broke wind. That's not a good thing when you're standing in a crowd of hundreds of people.
- This is a par 3 that would be a par 10 for me. Over the pond with enormous bunkers guarding the front and back of the green, it truly looks impossible.
- Tiger's shot looks good, but without binoculars or green access, it's hard to tell.
- I just took off my sunglasses, leaving my destined to look like a raccoon tomorrow.
- Twelve and 13 also gives the players a "break" from the crowd, as they're back 100-150 yards away from anyone. I wonder if it was designed that way?
- Tiger misses another birdie putt. He's still even and now nine shots behind Campbell.
- Tiger's tee shot at 13 lands in the first cut rough, but he's in good shape.
- I see a guy that looks like Mike Golic, but I heard him on the radio this morning, and I don't think he's here. I'll keep moving.
-Tiger's second is another spectacular one that's safely on the green. When he woke up, I bet he didn't expect to have to shoot in the mid-60s to be on the leaderboard. He needs some birdies badly...
-...and he gets one back on this par 5. He drops under par for the round.
- I'm 23 holes in walking, and I'm holding up physically. My brain, on the other hand, feels like an egg over easy (and I should have worn tennis shoes and shorts. I'll do that tomorrow.)
- Tiger rips again from the 14th tee (That's not been his problem at all today). Likewise, his second shot lands 15 feet from the hole, safely on the green.
- Meanwhile, I've found a shaded area to watch the hole under the trees, and I'm craving a pimento cheese sandwich and some Masters water.
- Tiger SINKS IT! He's had 10 of "those putts" today, and that's the first he's made. Two consecutive birdies, -2 with 3 to play.
- I just got chills as I watched across the 15th fairway as Tiger's launch of a drive rested on the top of the hill, and thousands upon thousands of spectators seemingly stared at me (I'm guessing they were not, actually.)
- Tiger, checking the wind before his second shot on the par 5 15th, gets it right. His high archer finds the back edge of the green, and he has a chance at eagle.
- Walking to the green, a man calls Tiger "T-Dub." The adult beverages may be kicking in for some of the grandstanders.
- Tiger leaves his eagle putt short, but rattles home his birdie and acknowledges the crowd. Three consecutive birdies.
- Another par 3 for the pros, par 10 for me. Tiger's on a roll, knocking it stiff six feet beyond the hole. Chad Campbell's come back to -7, so with a good finish, Tiger will be in the mix.
- I'm currently behind 16 watching Tiger & Co., while defending champion Trevor Immelman's group is whizzing golf balls by my head from the 17th tee. Immelman seems relaxed. He's eating an apple.
- Tiger gets a rousing ovation in the amphitheater that is the 16th hole. It's a great stage for golf.
- His birdie putt slides off to the left. Another par.
- Who knew? The back of the leaderboards at Augusta are chalkboards. It makes sense, I guess (better than etch-a-sketch's at least).
- Tiger's drive at 17 is safe again and lands in the middle of a triangle of balls between Singh and Cink.
- Tiger spins his second three feet from the cup as a kid next to me yells "Get in the hole!" after debating it with his older brother for the previous five minutes. It's great to have a younger brother you can convince to do things. My brother, Gaines, started yelling "Start the movie!" in the theater before 'Home Alone'. Not the same scale, but still...
- Around the cup and out, Tiger misses another birdie putt. This must be getting frustrating for me. The crowd is growing restless.
- Up to the par 4 finishing hole, and luckily for Tiger, his putting has not affected his driving. He's in the center of the fairway.
- While he walks up, I'd like to say that it's been a beautiful day at Augusta, and walking it with Tiger is a great way to see the full course for the first time. Of course, the crowds and the routs can be challenging, but it's completely worth this special opportunity.
- On the course, as Tiger rolls his second shot over the back edge of the green, it looks like one-time prodigy Chad Campbell will stand atop the Masters after Day 1.
- Tiger's third slips past the hold and way down the sloping green as the crowd growns in agony. He par putt comes up short, and he ends his round of 18 with a bogey, leaving him -2 overall.
- I think there's little doubt that he'll cite putting as the issue today, but only five back, Tiger has come back from much worse after Day 1. Stay tuned.
- The pimento cheese is calling. Goodbye.