Tiger Woods is your 2019 Masters champion. Let that sink in for a minute, if you haven’t already, or just think about it again. It’s probably been a little while since you thought about it, so take a second here to process it some more.
This week is special. This week is something different. This week is Masters Week. Even though the PGA Tour season starts in October, The Masters is where it really starts to get serious. It is the first major of the year, and is played every year at the exquisite Augusta National Golf Club. There are four majors on the schedule, but The Masters has a different feel to it, a different aura. Some of the most iconic moments in golf history happened here, and after this week, some of the weirdest.
Thursday started slowly, wind was a major factor and kept scores on the higher side early, but solid play was everywhere. Tiger Woods posted an early 2-under 70, along with other big names like Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson. Phil Mickelson birdied 12, 13, 15, 16, and 18 to shoot an opening 67. The story of the first day, though, was Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Both men fired a 6-under 66 to share the early lead. Brooks continued his excellent play in majors, having won back-to-back US Opens and last year’s PGA Championship. There were some questions leading into this week about his game, after losing nearly 20 pounds to appear in ESPN Magazine’s “The Body Issue.” Bryson had a frustrating first nine, making the turn in just 1-under. The second side was a little nicer, posting 6 birdies in 9 holes (and a bogey for good measure).
Friday was a strange day, to say the least. Jordan Speith and Adam Scott both carded 4-under 68’s. It was a big day for Speith as it brought him back under par for the tournament, after struggling the day before. DeChambeau did just the opposite, going around in 75 strokes, to drop him outside the top-15. Francesco Molinari and Jason Day shot up the board with matching 67’s, after they also shot matching scores the day before. The biggest mover of the day, though, was Xander Schauffele. After a 1-over round on Thursday, the young man caught fire Friday to shoot a blistering 7-under 65. The day ended with 7 men tied atop the leaderboard at -7, and a whole lot of firepower (not to mention name recognition) within two or three shots.
I mentioned earlier that this Masters gave us some weird moments, and I wasn’t kidding. I’ve watched a lot of golf in my life, and I’ve never seen a professional golfer do what Zach Johnson did on the tee box at 13. Taking a practice swing on the par 5, Johnson accidentally made contact with the ball and sent it ricocheting off the tee marker.
He was able to re-tee with no penalty because, as you hear his playing partners Matt Kuchar and Ian Poulter immediately say, it wasn’t intentional contact. His next attempt went a little better, and Zach still ended up making birdie. Kiradech Aphibarnrat continued the “pros are just like us regular folks” trend with this little beauty on 17.
It’s not the first time a golfer has fallen over after a swing, but something about how he falls is what makes this entertaining to me. Do yourself a favor, too, and go Google some more photos of Kiradech. He’s the everyman golfer that has been missing since Jon Daly has faded away.
The clip of the day, though, involves Tiger Woods and some poor security chap just trying to give the man some room. Tiger hit a drive into the trees on 14, and after hitting his second shot, this happened…
The shot ended up on the green, and Tiger made the birdie, but all anyone could talk about was that slip.
As wild as Friday was, Saturday found a way to be wilder. Not in the weird way like Friday, but in terms of scoring. In the history of the Masters, there had never been multiple rounds of 64 in the entire WEEK. There were 3 of them this Saturday alone. Webb Simpson, Tony Finau, and Patrick Cantlay all shot that mark for rounds of -8. Other big names weren’t shy about shooting good scores either. Woods turned in a 67, as did former winner here Bubba Watson. Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter, and Hideki Matsuyama shot 68 each. Jordan Speith brought it home in 69. The leaderboard was crowded, with more than 15 players within 6 shots of the lead, and dominated by big names. Sure, a few relatively unknown names were mixed in (like Cantlay and Justin Harding) but that is to be expected. It was all set up for some serious fireworks.
Sunday was all about one man, though.
Tiger. Freaking. Woods.
In a couple of firsts for The Masters, the final round was played in groups of three (rather than the traditional pairs), and also from split tees. Half the field teeing off on hole 1 like normal, and the other half starting on number 10. Tiger started the day two shots back, playing in the final grouping with Francesco Molinari and Tony Finau, and would spend the front nine chasing Molinari. Sometimes getting to a one stroke deficit, only to have the usually steady Italian land a counter. There were other challengers, too. Brooks Koepka was always lurking, always there, but could never quite get himself over the hump. Jason Day shot -5 on Sunday to post an early 11-under score, but it just wasn’t enough. Xander Shauffele, Dustin Johnson, and Jon Rahm all fired 4-under 68’s. None of them, though, would be good enough to overtake Tiger.
The day changed for everybody shortly into the 2nd nine, when a lot of the players near the top got to the 12th hole. All it took was the final two groups to get through, about 25 minutes total and 4 shots dunked in the water short of the green, to completely change the complexion of the tournament. Koepka and Poulter were the first pair to have issues. Brooks was only two shots behind the leader, Molinari, and had battled his way through the first 11 holes in 1-under. Poulter was just a shot behind his playing partner, but the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) Rae’s Creek would claim his tee shot too. Both double-bogeyed and it seemed like their day was basically over.
Woods, Molinari, and Finau were next. Molinari was up first, having only made two bogeys all week, but this little par 3 would change all that. His tee shot never had a chance, and looked short as soon as he hit it. After his penalty drop, and chipping onto the green, he would two-putt for double bogey. Dropping his score to 11-under for the tournament. Finau would do the same, and drop to -8. Tiger, though, hit safely to the middle of the green and made his par for a huge two shot swing. Suddenly, the door for Tiger was WIDE open, and he was more than willing to take advantage. Woods would go on to birdie 13, 15, and 16, nearly making a 50-foot eagle putt on 13 and almost holing out for an ace on 16.
Brooks’ day wasn’t done after his debacle at the 12th, however. He turned around after that disaster, made it all right back with an eagle on the par-5 13th, and then birdied 15 too. That brought his score to 12-under, just one shot behind Tiger at the time. He couldn’t find the bottom of the cup on the last three holes, though, and stalled out there. Once El Tigre had his birdie at 16, he carried a two shot lead into the 18th. Even though he would bogey the last hole, it didn’t matter. The comeback that started over two years ago, when Tiger was telling people that he was done, that his back was too hurt, that he didn’t have the game anymore, had cleared the final hurdle. He fought hard at last year’s British Open, eventually falling to Molinari, and then took a huge step by winning the TOUR Championship. It was all building up to something. Building up to this. That comeback was finally complete. Tiger Woods is your 2019 Masters Champion.