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Augusta memories
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    When it comes to Augusta National, I honestly think I’ve been blessed by the golf gods.
    The magic began on my first trip to the hallowed course back in 2005. That Friday, I witnessed six-time Masters champ Jack Nicklaus play his final round at Augusta and had the pleasure of interviewing the teary-eyed Golden Bear and his caddy son moments after they came off his final hole.
    That was just the beginning of the phenomenal weekend.
    Two days later, I happened to be perfectly placed — propped up against a pine tree on No. 16 (my favorite hole) — for one of the greatest shots of all time. Sure, I probably should have been tracking the tournament from the jumbo television screens inside the media building along with the rest of the scribes, but something kept me pinned next to that tree.
    Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco were neck-and-neck coming through the back nine on that sunny Sunday, and when they got to No. 16, Tiger’s tee shot sailed over the all-water fairway and the green, landing in the first cut.
    You know what happened next.
    Tiger patiently lined up his chip shot for an improbable birdie, the ball gently rolled downhill toward the pin — pausing for dramatic effect on the lip of the cup with the Nike emblem facing up — before falling into the hole and sending the packed gallery into an absolute frenzy. Tiger went on to win his fourth green jacket, and the miracle shot is widely considered one of the best in his remarkable career.
    I remember it like it was yesterday, and I still get excited every time I see the replay. No doubt those were two of my favorite Masters moments, but there were definitely plenty of others:
    — I’ll never forget the time I was strolling through those velvety hills with my favorite writer and mentor Ken Burger, probably headed toward Amen Corner to watch a couple of groups play through the famous stretch. Let me start off by saying Ken knows everybody, so it’s fairly often he’s introducing me to someone new. This time, it was an ordinary-looking guy named Steve, who was walking alone and unnoticed underneath the tall pines and blooming dogwoods.
    “Hi Steve,” I said, shaking his hand and sharing a few moments of friendly conversation before Ken and I went on our way. “Steve who?” I asked Ken as we ventured onward. He looked at me in disbelief. “Spurrier,” he said. Ohhhhhh, that Steve. To this day, I’m still not sure how I failed to recognize the Ol’ Ball Coach. All I can say is the Heisman Trophy winner looked much younger, much taller and much calmer than the visor-tossing manic we usually see on the sidelines.
    — Then there was the 2007 Masters when I ran into actor Will Ferrell and talked the towering jokester into whispering one of my favorite lines from his movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” into my ear. Less than an hour later, I brushed elbows and got a million-dollar smile from Tiger in a secluded upstairs hallway in the historic clubhouse. Later that fun Sunday, I took a decent chuck of cash from my friends at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when Rory Sabatini finished second. Rory Sabatini?? Why would I make that pick? Fortunately it paid for my groceries for about two weeks. Wonder if they’ll invite me to join their pool this year.