A welcomed step back in time: What it was like to watch Tiger Woods win a major at Augusta
A tradition unlike any other. It’s the tagline synonymous with the Masters and it’s sold as the slogan on T-shirts in the gift shop.
From the no-running policies to the cheap concessions and the caddie uniforms, Augusta National is steeped in tradition that is evident as soon as you reach the gates of the hallowed turf.
But this year, the term took on a different meaning entirely as Tiger Woods won his 15th major title at the Masters.
The year is 2019, but it felt like 2005.
It’s my first trip to Augusta National, and I’m immediately struck by a sense of nostalgia as I arrive at the giant, old school scoreboard to the right of the first hole, but it’s only a flavour of what’s to come.
Being out on the course and away from the media centre means the chance to watch some of the best players in the world, but there’s a strict ban across the site on anyone having a mobile phone.
For the most part, it’s a move I welcome in an era of ‘if it’s not of the ‘gram it didn’t happen.’
Say what you will, but I hate seeing every single spectator taking identical photos of players from bad angles for the sole purpose of posting to social media. There’s something wonderful about being in a crowd that are soaking in and reacting to every single moment of the action, and for me it’s a stance Augusta have spot on.
The only downside, apart from the occupational hazard of trying to find people you know, is that with no digital scoreboards or screens around the course showing any other moments of the action, you can’t easily find what’s going on with anyone outside the top 10.
Even then, the iconic Masters scoreboards similar to the ones that sit behind the 18th and 16th holes are only on every other hole, and over the first three days I’m quick to learn that crowd reactions become the biggest indicator about what might be going on. The only way to describe it, is like you’ve stepped back in time.
And that’s before you’ve reached the concession stand and picked up a Pimento Cheese sandwich for $1.50.
Watching Tiger Woods tee off on Sunday at the Masters, it might as well be 2005.
There’s no prizes for guessing where the biggest crowd of the day are stationed as Tiger Woods stands on the first tee on Sunday ready to get his final round underway, but there’s one marked difference: Everyone, including myself, are still looking for a view, but it’s with their eyes – not their phones.
I’ll admit, trying to get a view of the action isn’t overly easy and those of you who watched on TV probably had the best view of them all, but there are moments you could never capture on TV that come with being in a crowd as Tiger Woods wins a major championship.
The occasion feels important, the chance in history a liklihood, and the excited chatter among the hundreds of TW dress-a-likes begins as soon as Tiger finds the fairway with his drive. What becomes more apparent over the rest of the day, is that the crowd feel like an extra extension of Woods: they ride the buzz of excitement with him for the good shots, and they fall flat when he drops them.
The shout of ‘God, No’ from Woods on the 2nd tee has patrons speed-walking with urgency to find out his fate, the roars reverberate around the course when he makes a birdie on three, and the silence is heavy after missed par-putts on four and five. When the two shot swing happened on seven, it was like nothing I’d ever heard before.
I very quickly became accustomed to seeking out leaderboards to find out where everyone else stood and taking cues from cheers as late drama had six players in a share at the top for a period of time, but everything changed as soon as Woods made a birdie on the 15th hole. Watching his exceptional approach play, if was hard to imagine he hadn’t won a major in 11 years: If you’d jumped in Marty McFly’s car and been dumped by that 15th green on Sunday, you’d be forgiven for assuming that we were back in a time of Tiger domination. Back to 2005.
The roar sounded more like a warning to the rest of the field that they needed to heed, before he followed it up with another gain on 16 to similar decibel levels. Call it the Tiger effect if you like, but it’s difficult to adequately express the noise of a Tiger roar at Augusta when he’s in contention other than call it intimidating. For players in front of him, the reactions tell them all the need to know about what’s going on behind, and I’m not surprised Cantlay and Shauffele fell back over the closing holes.
By the time Woods reaches the 17th green I’ve moved to the the 18th fairway and hear a distant roar. By now, you’ve learned to tell the difference between a birdie roar for Tiger, a par roar for Tiger, or a roar for a different player on the course.
This one, you can tell, is a par roar. A few minutes later it is confirmed as the scoreboard is changed, and it means a two-shot lead for Tiger Woods heading to the final hole.
Standing by the final green on Sunday you can count yourself one of lucky ones if you’re able to see through the mass of crowds, who have positioned their chairs around the green early to guarantee they’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the man in black and red.
I can see him walking up the fairway, and the feeling in the air is one of emotion and weighted significance. I was so aware of the defining moment in history this had the potential to be, and you could really feel the anguish from the groans when he ballooned his second shot short and right of the 18th green.
The chip to 14 feet was celebrated at a decibel level akin to Molinari’s birdie on the 17th, and the shout of ‘Come on Tiger’ broke the silence as the crowds tried to will the ball in to the hole for par.
It didn’t drop, and Woods took a moment beside the green as Molinari and Finau finished, and then went back to his ball to finish his major. The roar was defeaning, the celebration epic, and the chants of ‘TIGER’ iconic.
For that moment alone, I’m especially thankful for the phone ban. Sure, on TV you have a front seat to the action, but I had one to the atmosphere, and I’d wager it was a lot better.
I don’t need photographic evidence of the putt, the celebration or the eruption of noise: I lived it. I’m glad I didn’t watch it through my phone screen desperately trying with thousands of others to get a snap of the moment and just managing the top of his hat or a sliver of red.
No, I might not have posted my ‘I was there look at my video’ on the ‘gram, but I’ve got memories of witnessing one of the greatest rounds and moments in the history of the game, and I guarantee I’ll never forget them.
Although I do have a 2019 Masters hat if you really want proof I was there.
A few rows behind me, I hear a man say “man, I can’t see a thing, but I’m just hear for the atmosphere. I can watch the shot later.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.