Over the past 30 years I have been fortunate to attend The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club both as a member of the media and as a patron. I was lucky enough to be perched above the 18th hole in 2004 as Phil Mickelson made his birdie putt and claimed his first Green Jacket.
I was also in the same spot above the ninth and 18th holes as a member of the media in 2005 when Jack Nicklaus played his final hole as a competitor at Augusta National.
I have been able to walk the grounds and hear the roars and the gasps during the tournament and feel the energy. I haven’t attended too often on a Monday, but this Monday I was certainly glad I came, as I witnessed something that ranks up there as far as sights that I will always remember.
Ever since word started coming out that Tiger Woods had played a practice round at Augusta National last week, the sports world has been fixated on whether Woods would play in the 2022 Masters.
Sunday, things started heating up even more as Woods played another practice round, and left the door open to possibly playing this week. With the course pretty empty, with the exception of those attending the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, Woods tried out his surgically repaired leg without too many people watching.
Woods announced he would play another practice round Monday and would then make his decision. Any ticket for The Masters is like winning the lottery for most fans of golf, but of the seven possible days to go, Monday is probably the least coveted. This year, Monday practice round badges were a hot ticket.
I was again fortunate this year to have badges, and took my son Kyler and my daughter Sloan with me. Monday was a beautiful day and walking onto the grounds of Augusta National is something I never take for granted. We started off at the practice range, checked to see who was on the course and went out to meet friends at the first tee.
We waited for one of Kyler’s buddies, Rory McIlroy, to tee off at noon and made plans on where we should all meet up and a time if we got separated. Cell phones are not allowed at Augusta National, so you have to harken back to the “old days” of figuring out how to get together in a big place.
We then went out on the course to take in a few holes and headed down to the 16th hole to watch the players skip balls across the pond onto the green, which is a treat for anyone who attends a practice round.
Word started spreading that Tiger was on the range and may be heading out to the course. There are boards where you can see who has already teed off and who is on the range. When we checked the board and saw the name Woods was indeed on the list, we started heading toward the first tee.
We walked around the seventh green and it was unmistakable what was happening. Looking toward the first tee, it looked as though thousands of ants had a piece of food and were carrying it away. It was unlike anything I had seen as the patrons followed Woods, Justin Thomas and Fred Couples from the first tee down the fairway.
A man approached us and said “Tiger Woods just teed off number one!” I had to bite my tongue to keep from making a comment about how obvious that was. Our friends said they were going to go to the third hole and watch him and we tried to catch him on the second hole, but it was already about 15 people deep at the time.
The crowd was too much to try to work a wheelchair through, so I had an idea to go ahead to the eighth green, which is typically a pretty secluded spot. We found our way there and there were only a handful of people, which was great.
From our spot, we not only got to see the green on the par five hole, but also the tee shot on the ninth. Plenty of the players came through, and most were kind enough to stop and fist bump both of my kids and a few stopped to talk briefly, including John Rahm, Tony Finau and Jordan Spieth.
We had a great view down the eighth fairway, and all of a sudden, the ants were back again. There was no mistaking the crowd, which Rahm commented was the largest crowd he had ever seen, and who they were following.
Tiger joked later that everyone loves to watch Freddie Couples play. But they were there to watch a man who they probably wondered if they’d ever see again on the golf course walk the grounds that has been the site of many of his most remarkable accomplishments.
However he finishes this week, the fact that he put in the hard work to get back on the golf course after nearly losing his leg in a car accident just over a year ago, is just about as incredible as winning his fifth Green Jacket in 2019.
There is a hill on the eighth fairway preventing you from seeing who is coming up until they are about 150 yards away. With a ball on the green in two it was doubtful that would be Woods, but here he came. White hat, dark blue shirt and white pants strolling up to the ball for an eagle putt. He put it to within a few feet and proceeded to putt toward the other hole locations that will be used for the rest of the week.
The crowd had found our secret fishing hole but my kids still had a good spot in front. Tiger started walking toward the ninth tee box and caught a glimpse of Kyler eagerly reaching out for a fist bump. A huge smile appeared on Tiger’s face as he made a bee line toward Kyler and Sloan.
Tiger has been very gracious over the years with Kyler at various PGA Tour events, signing plenty of souvenirs and asking him how he’s doing. By this time, he knows the kid in the wheelchair with the big smile.
Tiger came over and greeted both kids with fist bumps, and to make the day even more special, so did Justin Thomas and Fred Couples.
We have primarily been to Augusta National on the Wednesday practice round as Kyler is a huge fan of watching the Par-3 contest, but I think this week Monday may have been even more special than attending one of the tournament rounds.