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Walking Sunday with Phil & Tiger
A live running journal from The Masters
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The Herald's Vince Johnson walked Sunday's final round of The Masters with the masses. - photo by VINCE JOHNSON

AUGUSTA – A perfect storm of historic circumstances has all led to this epic finale. It’s Sunday at the 2010 Masters, and this is my running (well, briskly walking) journal following the final two pairings – Tiger Woods (-8) and K.J. Choi (-8), trailed by the leaders, Lee Westwood (-12) and Phil Mickelson (-11).

- Tiger walks to the tee with the largest opening ovation of the day, up 25 percent from the applause Couples received just moments ago.

- For the fourth consecutive day, Tiger and Choi are playing together, and for the first time since Thursday, they’re wearing different colored shirts. Choi is in black pants, a black shirt and a white visor. Tiger is wearing his lucrative classic ensemble of black pants, a red shirt and a black hat. He also has those eye-wrapping sunglasses upside down on the back of his head.

- Tiger snaps his opening drive left and down the ninth fairway, but he shows little emotion following his outbursts Saturday. “It’s O.K. Tiger,” a few women yell from the crowd. Regardless of what happens from here, if that’s his biggest problem now, this week has been a rousing success.

- Walking through the green grass and scattered pine needles up the first fairway, you can already since the atmosphere more tense today. Plus, I hear at least four different languages being spoken – an international event following an international superstar.

- Tiger’s second shot on one is a rain-making iron over the trees, but it lands short of the green. His chip flies the hole and he two putts from 25 feet. It’s a rough start for Tiger as murmurs from the crowd say Phil hit his tee shot well. Choi makes a ho-hum par, a very familiar site this week.

- On the par 5 second hole, Tiger releases the driver from his right hand, implying another left hook. Ruling any eagle chances out for Tiger, I’m walking back to Mickelson when I realize Tiger’s ball is smack dab in the middle of the fairway. “Is that really Tiger?” I ask the volunteer working the ropes. “Yep,” he says sitting happily with his legs outstretched and crossed, “It just went high. He usually rips it down the hill.” I then ask him if patrons ever cause problems. “Almost never,” he replies. “If you have problems here, I feel sorry for you.” I agree.

Meanwhile, Tiger hits his second on two into the front bunker, flubs his third into the same bunker, and gets up and in for par, while Choi makes birdie.

- Roars are starting, with the largest of the day thus far applauding Couples on three. He’s birdied two and three to reach nine under. After we hear Westwood bogeyed one, Freddie is just two back of Phil and Lee. We know the ’92 champ can go low here – he shot 66 Thursday.

- Watching Phil on two, he hits his third shot from the bunker to the top of the hill, and the gallery willfully attempts to yell the ball down the ridge. It ultimately dies about 15 feet from the hole, and he misses his birdie putt to a chorus of ‘oooo…eeewww….’ You hear that a lot here.

- Straw poll of my eyes: 30 percent more people are following Tiger, but the patrons are more positively passionate about Phil.

- Westwood birdies two before Tiger and Choi both save par with long putts on three.

- At 3:15, the leaderboard looks like this: Westwood (-12), Mickelson (-11), Couples (-9), Choi (-9), Woods (-7).

- This is the first time I’ve made this attempt at walking with two groups simultaneously, and it’s extremely difficult.

- As Phil walks to the third green with a smile and hearty waves to the gallery, a mere 100 yards away, Phil takes a peek and sees Tiger’s tee shot short of the green on the par 3 fourth hole. As compared to Phil, Tiger’s reaction to the crowd is much more forced – more like a grimaced ‘thank you’ and an acknowledgement hand gesture.

- I’m standing on the par 3 fourth with Tiger on the green and Phil on the tee, as the patrons turn decidedly pro-Phil.

- Tiger just bogeyed hole four! His swan song for this tournament is starting to play. Westwood is getting no support playing with fan-favorite Phil. Lee is short right of the green, while Phil has 15 feet for birdie. (side note: Jockeying for position, two guys quickly move to give me a spot on the ropes. “You look official,” they say. I definitely fooled them.) Phil’s birdie putt misses by inches and Westwood misses for par. We’ve got a tie ballgame at 11 under!

- At the fifth, Phil and Westwood bomb drives, while Tiger makes his third bogey in five holes today. Walking off of the green, there’s no bounce in his step. He looks defeated.

- There’s a party going on the hillside of six, where you can easily see the 16th green. Ryan Moore just sank the second hole-in-one of the day! Back on six, a birdie is flying, but it’s by Choi, not Tiger. The usually stoic Choi dances a little jig to get his putt to drop.

- Meanwhile, Westwood has birdied five and on six, both Phil and Lee stick their tee shots within eight feet of the hole, but they both miss their birdie putts. With Tiger now six-back and out of the picture, this is completely Phil’s crowd.

- Hole six is perhaps my favorite scene on the course, the green almost a stage in an amphitheater surrounded by hillsides lined with pines, azaleas and patrons. Breathtaking every time I see it.

- Speaking of breathtaking, Oh Tiger! From the right rough, Tiger eagles the 450 yard, par 4 seventh in front of a stunned but raucous crowd. “Never count out a champion,” a patron says of Woods, now five back of the leaders. Whoops – I already had.

- Mickelson and Westwood both make par on seven and are both even today. If they stick to this pace, I wonder if anyone can catch them.

- It just got loud! Couples sticks his iron shot two feet to the pin on nine, followed by birdies at eight by Woods and Choi. Here we go: Everyone’s turning low!

4:25 p.m. leaderboard: Westwood (-12); Mickelson (-11); Choi (-11); Couples (-10); Woods (-8)

- “They’re putting pressure on Westwood,” someone says walking toward the ninth green. “He’s about to choke.” The murmurs say that’s the general consensus.

- “It’s a four-man race,” one man says. I beg to differ. Woods is eight under, and he’s back from the dead. Mickelson just birdied eight and is tied for the lead.

- Woods’ second on nine just caused me to leap in the air as the crowd volume rose, and I saw his chance for his second eagle from the fairway in three holes slip just by the cup. He’s makes the birdie and slips on the shades. His step is in full bounce, and he appears ready to pounce.

- Tiger’s 35 was one of the wildest front nine’s in Masters history. I have little doubt of this.

- Tiger snacks on a Snickers walking down 10, while a group of large African-American men start loudly saying, “We love you, Tiger! We love you man!” Tiger waves (which is normal) and smirks (which is not).

- After a few holes of being able to see multiple groups simultaneously, you have to choose between nine and 10, and a large majority of patrons, including myself, went with Tiger. He may not be incredibly likeable, but he’s insanely polarizing.

- Looking at the 10th scoreboard, I see Westwood bogeyed nine, giving Mickelson the one shot lead, and leaving five players, including Tiger, within three strokes. Couples is an impressive -3 today. 

- Woods misses a birdie putt and makes an easy par on the difficult 495-yard par 4 10th, and then, oh K.J., he just birdied 10 from eight feet to get to 12 under for the tournament and four under today. Can he REALLY play four rounds with the Tiger circus AND win The Masters? Now that would be a feat!

- Nike’s Phil Knight is walking down the 11th fairway with a security guard. Like Tiger, he’s wearing red. Walking with Knight, I think I see Tiger’s mom wearing a large hat, but I’m not completely sure.

- On 11, a guy got hit by Tiger’s ball and now the ball is lying next to his duffle bag. “I’ll be signing autographs later,” the guy says. Tiger comes over and says “they’re ok here” to the group where I’m standing, but does some major rearranging of the gallery, as he’s about to try and hook the ball between trees. “Hey man, I need some more room,” Tiger says, “especially around the green.”

Tiger gets tunnel vision and mumbles to himself before approaching the ball, but after he hits, I immediately hear a ‘thump’ as the ball hits a tree. “Ohhhh,” the crowd groans. Tiger grimaces but says nothing.

- Tiger’s third shot on 10 is also from the pine straw, but perhaps slightly more manageable. He strikes and smiles, and when the crowd near the green roars, he gives a low pump of his fist.

- Looking at the 11th scoreboard, I see Watney shot 65 to finish eight under. Kim has rallied to nine under through 14, and Couples has dropped to nine under through 11.

- Tiger’s knees frown as his par putt slides by at 11. A valiant effort, but for the second time today, I’ll say this isn’t Tiger’s day. It’s also probably not Couples day. He just double bogeyed 12, regressing to seven under for the tournament, even for the day.

- Tiger crosses the bridge of 12 as the Amen Corner crowd yells from the grandstand, “Go Phil!” Tiger is in the back bunker on 12, but makes a phenomenal putt to save par.

- Phil and Choi are the only players without a bogey today. Not coincidentally, they’re also tied for the lead.

- As Phil walks to 12, the crowd gets rowdy. In the past, this seems like a time when this shot might swim with a tough far right pin placement, but Phil goes for it and connects as Tiger watches in the background on the 13th tee. “Woohoo,” the crowd exclaims. “Best shot in the last hour here,” another patron claims. Phil sinks his birdie from about 20 feet, and now he’s 13 under heading toward the holes where he went eagle-eagle on Saturday.

- On the par 5 13th, Tiger laid up and is chipping for eagle, and as his chip slips by the cup, he raises his leg and spins. He makes birdie.

- “Whoa,” the crowd exclaims as it posted on the leaderboard that Anthony Kim eagled 15 and birdied 16 to get to 12 under. He’s seven under since the seventh tee!

- Choi putts poorly for the first time all week at 13, making six.

- 5:40 leaderboard – Mickelson (-13); Kim (-12); Choi (-11); Westwood (-11); Couples (-9); Woods (-8).

- The largest roar all week just happened. “He was as close as he could possibly be to that tree,” an almost running, fist-waving in excitement patron says to no one in particular. “I can’t believe he went for it.” Unbridled exuberance continues as Phil has just hit his second shot on 13 from the trees to four feet from the hole.

- Blocking their eyes from the beaming sun, thousands of patrons watch as Phil misses his eagle putt. “He would’ve had this place rockin’ if he made that,” a man says. Yep, but it keeps it close.

- Tiger three putts the 14th green from five feet. From birdie to bogey, good run, Eldrick, but he’s out.

- This is the time of day when men kneel down in the shade and some walk arm-in-arm with a friend. These men are also carrying many green cups.

- Phil taps in for par at the 14th, while I discuss with a member of the national media when Tiger will play next. Two weeks at Wachovia? Three weeks at TPC? He has to fit rehab in there somewhere, right? If he didn’t, how would we know?

- Meanwhile, on the course, Tiger eagles 15. This guy has the lives of a cat. Choi pars.

- With Tiger lining up for his putt on 16, a kid next to me gets a nosebleed. “This is terrible timing,” he says as he grabs a plastic sandwich wrapper. Tiger makes par, and the kid finds a napkin.

- Tiger, walking up the 17th fairway, looks back at Phil and Westwood on the 15th. “Make us proud, Tiger” says an older man standing along the ropes. Phil makes birdie at 15, and at 15 under, this is his tourney to lose.

- “He ain’t backing off, is he” a patron says as Phil hits his tee shot at the par 3 16th. He took dead aim and the ball stopped eight feet high of the hole.

- Both Phil and Westwood make pars on 16, and with Phil up three stokes with two holes to play, let the coronation begin. The cheering crowd is extremely genuine. “Bring it home, Phil,” one man yells. Another continuously tips his cap as Phil walks by up the 17th fairway.

- Westwood tucks his second shot tight on 17 and makes birdie. “This could make things interesting, says a man as Phil lines up for his five-foot par putt. “This is the most pressure he’s faced all day.” And he answers the call. Par.

- Walking quickly to the 18th tee, I run into a parked golf cart trying to write and walk.

- The bathrooms lines are long with those ‘green cup’ people.

- Phil, up two shots on the 18th tee, rips his tee shot just short of the fairway bunker. I’m standing behind him as he hits his second, a beautiful iron shot that causes him to pump his left fist in the air in jubilation. A tremendous roar echoes from the top of the hill. “That’s the way you win,” says the man next to me.

- Walking to the 18th green, predictably, I encounter the largest crowd of the tournament. I manage to squeeze my way just behind the photographers’ stand to see the final putt from the tips of my toes. I also see his wife and kids standing by the scoring hut. This is going to get emotional.

- Luckily, I get a front row seat to watch the Mickelson family's tearful but glorious celebration in the roped-off press area behind the 18th green. It has been such a tough year for his family as his wife battles breast cancer. If there was ever any doubt, I know now. The right guy, and the best player, won this tournament.