AUGUSTA — I asked Tiger Woods a question Saturday behind the scoring shed after his round of 70.
His response scared me to death.
But let's start from the beginning — before the national cameras engulfed Augusta on the back nine, and after Tiger flew his first two tee shots into shrubbery, the four-time champion Woods launched the best shot he has ever hit in Masters competition.
And yes, I know the magnitude of that statement.
On the Par-3 sixth, with the pin safeguarded upon a miniscule top right ledge, Tiger Woods hit the shot that was supposed to change the outcome of this tournament, and Masters history, forever. To my knowledge, no television cameras were around.
“Did you that see that?” asked 1992 Masters Champion Fred Couples, who missed the cut Friday and was following Woods outside the ropes (the first time he's ever walked Augusta as a fan, he told me). “Unbelievable.”
A high, soft 8-iron to the downhill green, Woods stood in his legendary, completed swing pose as his Nike missile locked in on its target.
“It was a good shot,” said Tiger's swing coach Hank Haney behind the seventh tee, a classic understatement uttered with a wry smile.
The shot, in fact, hit its target three inches up the flag stick, but as Tiger's expression turned from legendary to lonely, the ball rolled down the ridge and completely off the green.
“He got screwed,” said NBA legend Julius Erving, who was following Tiger with his grandchildren. “That pin didn't know who hit it.”
The crowd of several thousand, sitting on the hillside, let out a historic groan. Tiger's pose shriveled up into one of agony, his hands tightly grasping both sides of his head.
“That's the way it goes sometimes,” Haney continued. “You've got to just keep trying your hardest, and that's what he'll do.”
Tiger did just that, completing an up-and-down par on six en route to a third-round 70, landing him seven shots off the lead heading into today's final round.
“I put myself behind the 8-ball,” Tiger said to a crowd of reporters behind 18. “But man, I fought hard to get it back today. That was a (heck) of a fight.”
Then, standing on the ropes, I asked Tiger my question.
“Tiger, on six, what were your thoughts when your ball went into the air?”
“I thought it looked good, and it didn't end up good,” he said, his mood instantly changing from jovial to intense.
He stared at me, and I stared back. I was looking at a legend, and he wasn't happy to be talking about my subject.
Then, I continued, “I mean, what were...”
He cut me off.
“You don't want to know my thoughts,” he said, trying to force a small smile. “Seriously, you don't want to know my thoughts.”
With that, I knew his thoughts. The greatest shot of his Masters life spurned by luck into another grind-it-out par. It's been that kind of week.
Divots: After making 23-consecutive cuts at Augusta ('73-'06), Couples missed the cut for the second straight year. Today, he was wearing plaid shorts, an untucked white polo, and Air Jordan shoes. ... Woods and Phil Mickelson are paired together for Sunday's round, teeing off at 1:35. Before the tournament, Phil said, “I hope to play with Tiger on Sunday, but only if it's in the last group.” Six groups tee off after Woods-Mickelson.