Tiger Woods had not won a major championship in 11 years. He hadn’t slipped on the green jacket as Masters champions in 14. Those two numbers alone would have made what happened last April at Augusta National Golf Club a tournament for the ages.
But think about everything else that happened — player after player after playing dumping shots into Rae’s Creek on No. 12, Woods narrowly escaping injury after an on-course run-in with a security guard, the rare early Sunday start.
So much happened. The people who were there remember it all:
When was the first time during the week you thought, ‘Wait, Tiger Woods could actually win this thing’?
Bob Harig: On Friday when he survived the security guard scare. With Tiger having hit his approach from the left rough, a guard came flying into the scene to keep spectators away, inadvertently clipping Woods in the knee, a scary sight. That Woods went on to birdie the hole was a good omen. He shot 68, was just a shot back of the five leaders who were tied, and for the first time since 2012 opened a major with consecutive rounds under par.
Michael Collins: After the round on Saturday night, there were a couple of us in the parking lot talking with Tiger and his girlfriend, Erica Herman. Just before they jumped in the car, someone said, “You’re gonna win this thing tomorrow aren’t you?” And Tiger looked back calmly, “Yeah, I know.” I gave him a bro hug and repeated, “You ARE gonna win tomorrow, aren’t you?!” Seeing the look in his eyes (still gives me goose bumps) when he said yes again, there was no doubt in my mind.
Ian O’Connor: I started feeling it a bit late Friday, since his second round was better than his first and the momentum felt genuine. But I remember asking Tiger on Saturday evening after his third round — in a second scrum behind the clubhouse — how much East Lake would help him on Sunday, and he gave a very decisive answer about how much he felt the Tour Championship experience was going to propel him across the final round. As I headed back to the press center, I distinctly recall feeling that Tiger was ready to win the Masters.
Mark Schlabach: It was probably after Saturday’s round, when I was ordered back to the rental house to start writing a “what if Tiger wins” column. Of course, I figured I was jinxing Tiger by writing it because nothing ever goes as planned. Sunday’s round, which was moved up because of the threat of bad weather, was an up-and-down roller coaster. At various points during the final 18 holes, I wrote about Francesco Molinari winning a green jacket, Brooks Koepka winning his first, and then back to Tiger winning again.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: As he walked off the 18th green early Saturday evening, Tiger had this smile on his face. I don’t remember ever seeing him smile like that while he still had work left to win a major championship. He was having fun. That look, it felt as if he knew something the rest of us didn’t. Sure, he was 2 shots back heading into Sunday and it was going to be an early wake-up call because tee times had been moved up with bad weather in the forecast and had never won a major from behind before, but that smile kind of said to me, “He knows.” [Editor’s note: That’s when I ordered Schlabach back to the house to start writing.] I thought he could win another major, but that moment was when I thought he could win
Peter Lawrence-Riddell: I thought he had a chance heading into the week; he always has a chance at Augusta if he’s healthy. But I don’t think I had my “wow, he’s really going to win” moment until No. 12 on Sunday. Of course he was right in the mix way before then, but that was when I think everyone sort of caught their breath for a second or two and thought it was actually happening.
The leaderboard going into Sunday was packed. Who did you think was Woods’ biggest threat on the board?
Harig: Francesco Molinari. He proved that playing with Tiger was not an obstacle a summer earlier at Carnoustie, where he didn’t make a bogey over the final 18 holes to win the Claret Jug. Heading to the final round, he had made just one bogey all tournament at Augusta National. He seemed so unflappable and seemingly saved par from everywhere, even during the early part of Sunday. A nice par save on the 11th meant he kept a 2-shot lead. We all know what happened next, but it was hard to see that coming.
Collins: Molinari. Everyone knew what happened at the 2018 Open Championship. So there was a feeling that he might do that again. The feeling was even more intensified after he made the incredible par save at the 11th. Who knew what was coming the very next hole?
O’Connor: Molinari was the biggest threat to me. I walked 18 holes with him and Tiger at The Open, when Tiger had the lead on the Sunday back nine, and Molinari just looked him in the eye and beat him and never flinched. Molinari is a tough, tough dude, and frankly I was shocked when he started falling apart at No. 12. Just didn’t expect that from him.
Schlabach: I have to agree: Molinari was such a machine through the first three rounds and wasn’t making big mistakes. He’d won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and finished third at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks before Augusta. He was playing golf as well as anyone in the world at the time. Molinari had a 2-shot lead over Tiger entering Sunday’s round and was up by 3 shots after 11 holes. I’m not sure he’s gotten over squandering it even now.
Pietruszkiewicz: Brooks Koepka. Molinari was an automaton for three days. But Koepka had owned the golf world. He was 3 shots behind Molinari and just 1 behind Woods and Tony Finau to start the final round. Having to jump only three players to win a green jacket didn’t feel all that unreasonable. More, no one would have enjoyed ruining the Tiger Woods fairy tale more than Koepka, who had already done it once a year earlier at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive.
Lawrence-Riddell: Molinari. He’d just been such a machine all week, making just one bogey through 54 holes. He won The Open the summer before and won at Bay Hill earlier in the 2019 season. He seemed totally in control and unfazed, and I thought it would continue on Sunday. I at least thought someone would have to get to 15 under to beat him. I certainly didn’t expect him to go backward — if he shoots even-par he’s in a playoff.
What memory from the 2019 Masters stands out most?
Harig: The scene behind the 18th green on Sunday after Tiger won. Not just the hugs with his son and daughter and later his team, but the noise and the chanting as he walked toward the scoring area. And it was there where he was greeted by some of the players who were in the tournament, waiting to congratulate him, including past champions such as Bernhard Langer and Trevor Immelman, who wore their green jackets.
Collins: I’ll never forget going down to the caddie house and seeing how many caddies were waiting for Joe LaCava. Never seen anything like that before. At least 30 caddies just waiting to congratulate him. Joe’s wife, Megan, walked in at one point. When she saw me and said, “You know how hard they worked for this …” hugged me and burst into tears, which made me start crying right along with her.
O’Connor: For me it will always be the look on my brother Dan’s face as we walked the final round. He had never been to a major, and to watch him watch Tiger was something special. When Dan died last month, I couldn’t stop thinking about the 16th hole. A security guard allowed us a point-blank look at Tiger’s critical birdie putt. On the walk to 17, I told my brother that he had really stepped in it, that his only trip to Augusta National was unfolding into the greatest Masters of all time.
Schlabach: It has to be the security guard who clipped Tiger on the 14th hole in the second round on Friday. The guard, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, was only doing his job. But there’s no running at Augusta National! The turf was slick from rain, and the agent tried to run toward Woods after he hit his second shot from the left trees to protect him from converging fans. When the agent tried to slam on the brakes, he slid into Woods’ right leg. Tiger said he momentarily felt some pain in his right knee. What if it had been worse? I’m certain that agent breathed a huge sigh of relief when Tiger won his fifth green jacket, and I’m sure the agent’s buddies haven’t stopped giving him grief a year later.
Pietruszkiewicz: With this Masters postponed until early November, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this answer. Maybe just to allow my mind to wander to the place, to feel like the world is right and we are all there this week. But I’ll repeat something I said when I was asked a similar question by our PR team last year. I always go for an early morning walk around Augusta National — by myself, just to think. Inevitably, I think about my father, who passed away years before I could tell him about seeing the place in person. So the moment that sticks out for me, whether you like or loathe Tiger Woods, whether you can admire his ability or you never forgive his transgressions, is his hug with his kids behind the 18th green after it was over. A father hugging his child after something big.
Lawrence-Riddell: This was my first time at the Masters, so what doesn’t stand out? Seeing the media center for the first time, which looks more like a Disney resort from the outside than any media center I’d ever been to. And then actually getting inside it and seeing the setup. My first egg salad — I know it’s just a sandwich, but you hear so much about it before you get there and it really is the best egg salad I’ve ever had. Seeing No. 1 for the first time. The view from the behind the first tee where you can see Nos. 9, 18 and 10. Of course, the first time I walked to Amen Corner — I’d always thought No. 12 looked sort of “easy” on TV, and then you see it in person and realize how much your hands would be shaking standing over the ball and looking out at the green.
But in terms of actual play, I was behind the green on No. 9 when Tiger made about a 40-footer for birdie in the second round. It moved him to 3 under for the tournament, and he’d go on to make three birdies on the back nine, finishing the day at 6 under and just 1 shot off the lead (on what was as loaded a leaderboard as you’ll ever see). I’ve been to a few majors where Tiger won or was in contention and heard some loud roars, and the crowd’s reaction to that birdie on No. 9 was one I’ll always remember.
Be honest, before this week a year ago, did you ever think Tiger would win another major?
Harig: His close call at Carnoustie and his win at the Tour Championship in 2018 — where he was paired with Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy over the final three rounds — was a clue that he still had a chance. I certainly believed it was possible but felt his best chance last year might be at Royal Portrush for The Open. As it turned out, his only chance was at Augusta, and he took advantage.
Collins: Absolutely not! I would go around telling everyone who would ask me, “Tiger’s gonna win tournaments again, but he’ll never win another major. There are just too many things working against him. You think all the other top players are gonna stop practicing or will fold coming down the stretch?” I’ll say the same thing I said on Get Up that Monday: I have never been more happy to have been so wrong!
O’Connor: After Tiger missed the U.S. Open cut at Shinnecock, I wrote that everyone should relax, that Tiger wasn’t done winning majors. I recall catching some heat for that, but I’d been consistent for a while that Tiger had one more magical Sunday left in his bag. And now I think he’ll get to 16. I don’t know about 17 or 18, but I feel confident about 16.
Schlabach: No, I thought he was done because of his neck and back and knees and whatever other ailments he has been fighting for so long. He became the second-oldest Masters champion at 43 years, 3 months and 15 days. I figured younger players like Rory McIlroy, Koepka and others had passed him by. After the 2017 Masters champions dinner, even Woods thought he was done. He needed a nerve block to endure sitting in a chair. Immediately after the dinner, Woods flew to London to meet with specialists, who recommended spinal fusion surgery to alleviate back spasms and pain and discomfort in his leg. He had surgery in Texas later that month, the fourth back surgery of his career. Tiger thought he was done, and so did I.
Pietruszkiewicz: I did. For sure I did. I said before the 2019 major season began that I actually thought he would win two last year. I was half right; he got one at the Masters, then looked awful at the PGA, the U.S. Open and The Open. But he got one. And I think he’ll still get more.
Lawrence-Riddell: So I did, but with a caveat — it had to be before his body really started acting up again. I’ve always thought he had a window to win another one, and thought he’d at least put himself in contention at a few of them. But again, so much with him is dependent on health now. If he’s healthy for the next five years, he’ll win more.
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