AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods won his 15th major championship title at the Masters last year. But you knew that. And you knew it was his first major in 11 years. And you knew it was his fifth Masters win. And you knew that 14 years had passed since he last won a green jacket. And of course you knew it was his 81st PGA Tour win.
It was an amazing week for Woods, who just two years earlier feared his competitive golf career was over because of numerous back problems that required spinal fusion surgery.
You knew that too.
But here’s what you might not have known about the circumstances and events of this week 19 months ago at Augusta National.
Tiger’s caddy wondered if he’d played enough
Joe LaCava, Tiger Woods’ caddy since 2011, takes us back to the 2019 Masters and the unique prospect of having a front row in history.
Winning the 2018 Tour Championship in Atlanta was a big confidence boost for Woods, but the 2019 Masters was a long way to go. Serious preparations didn’t start until January, and Woods had a nice series of events at the Farmers Insurance Open (T-20), Genesis Open (T-15), WGC Mexico Championship (T-10), and the Players Championship (T. -31) and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (T-5). That’s five events, but in the stroke play tournaments Woods never got closer than eight strokes to the winner.
And caddy Joe LaCava wasn’t sure Woods had played enough golf to be competitive in the Masters.
“Personally, I wasn’t sure if he had enough tournament rounds,” said LaCava. “We had a pretty easy schedule. Still, I know when he’s not feeling well. I think he knew he needed to save some energy and it was more important for him to be rested and to work his back against it.” Play tournament golf. Easy to say because he won the thing. But I thought we’d need another tournament or two to get a little tougher. “
The putting and chipping session on Sunday evening
Woods ‘friend and right-handed Rob McNamara played a training round at Augusta National with Woods on April 3, 2019, the Wednesday before tournament week and a few days after Woods’ quarterfinal defeat at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Woods shot a 65 that day with a three-putt bogey on the first hole.
But one of the keys to the week was arriving on Sunday late afternoon on April 7th after most of them left the course. Woods, McNamara and LaCava went to the first tee where Woods only brought a wedge and putter.
“Technically, he was way ahead of where he was [a year prior] in the past few months, “said McNamara.” All year round he [had been driving] the ball and hit the ball really very well. It was just a goal. Short game and putting. I noticed a change when he started placing them very close and firmly. That was part of that Sunday night work. I’m just taking a wedge around. He knew it was about pitches and chips and how to control your distance, speed and spin. He started dialing in and felt good. I think that got him through. “
Tuesday (not) practice
For the past few years, Woods has taken a less-is-more approach to training before tournaments, especially the big ones. He likes to play nine holes and seeks the right balance between preparing and exaggerating. Sometimes, it seems, he doesn’t see the course enough. So it was a bit of a surprise when Woods decided not to play a practice round on the Tuesday before the Masters.
“The best move I’ve taken all week was not going out and playing that Tuesday,” said Woods. “The rain had come in and the greens had slowed. They didn’t cut them all the way. The golf course played slower. I knew they were going to speed it up on Thursday. That was the best I could have done.”
The Wednesday putting contest
Peyton Manning, Michael Phelps, Bill Murray, Chris Paul and others look back on Tiger Woods winning the 2019 Masters.
Woods played a training round with Fred Couples and Justin Thomas the day before the tournament. And what happened on the ninth hole came in handy during the final lap on Sunday when Woods faced a two-putt rolled from 50 feet, a descent he delayed an inch to save par.
“It was huge,” said LaCava. “It hits it way back to that top shelf. Left back, the third step. The pen is front left. And the funny thing is when we finished with JT and Fred on Wednesday, Tiger dropped a ball and they had a little the next he dropped the ball a foot from where it hit it on Sunday, and the pen was a foot from where it was on Sunday.
“Now listen, I don’t think it’ll ever be an easy two-putt. But it’s certainly a lot easier on Wednesday, when nothing is at stake, than on Sunday. But I think it helped a bit. He did took a close look at it on Wednesday. ” Believe it or not. You drop 10 balls there, you will hit two that close. They’ll leave one up. You could hit one off the green. You get three putt three times. And it was huge for meeting him to like a tap. “
The 7th green
Woods had struggled to stay close to Francesco Molinari, who continued to struggle to maintain his lead. Tiger finally came within 1 shot when he struck his ball close on the par-4 seventh.
Due to the early start due to impending bad weather, Woods hadn’t seen his children Sam and Charlie before he tee off. They had made plans to arrive on Sunday morning. And they hardly came at all.
If his daughter Sam’s soccer team had won the semi-final tournament game in Florida the day before, there would have been no trip to Augusta for them. And not for Charlie either. They would have stayed home and watched on TV. Instead, they had the first chance to see their father in his Sunday red at the Masters – they had only been to Augusta National once for the 2015 par 3 competition.
But when Woods hit his tee shot on the first hole just after 9:20 a.m. ET, he wasn’t sure they’d made it.
“I didn’t know until I got around to it [No.] 7 and I had this little tip for birdie and I see Charlie jumping up and down, “said Woods.” And I thought, ‘Well, you did it; You did it. ‘ And I didn’t see her until 6 p.m. for the rest of the day. “
The turning point at 12
Webb Simpson never felt like he was giving himself a big chance to win the Masters and ended up finishing two shots back. But he had a great place for the action. He played in the group before Woods with Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter – and was the only player in his three-point who didn’t find the brook on the 12th.
And when both Molinari and Tony Finau found Rae’s Creek, it was a game when Tiger was close to taking the lead.
“It was cool,” said Simpson. “You could feel how badly everyone wanted Tiger to win. My crowd … it was about eight. When I did birdie when I was 13 there were about eight claps. Everyone else cheered Tiger. And honestly, that was the first Time in Augusta where I heard someone cheering for a beach ball, they cheered Molinaris and Finau’s beach ball because it meant Tiger had a better chance, they were all excited.
“When I was on the 13th [tee] I waited to meet and turned to see Tiger on top [12th] Green. Then I think that as a player you step away for a second and take in the moment. And I did that. I grew up with him. In 1997 I was there for a practice session. And then it’s his Sunday red on Augusta’s 12th green, perhaps the most famous picture in golf. It was cool. I said to myself, “You’re going to play Tiger Woods in the Masters.” This is a childhood dream. So I recorded that. “
More Molinari problems
Despite his double bogey on the 12th, Molinari was still very much in the tournament. In fact, he was linked to Woods when they tee off on the 15th par 5, with only four holes as both of them had birded the 13th and parried the 14th.
But Molinari made a double at 15 when his third shot cuts a piece of branch and dips his ball into the pond in front of the green. With so much going on around the target holes, CBS had missed its second shot from the right rough, a layup that went too far into the left rough. Woods screwed the hole and led for the first time with 1.
“The breakup for me started on the 15th tee,” said Molinari. “I knocked it right into the trees. I was just having a childish moment. I was literally standing over my driver and thinking, ‘Holy crap, I’m leading the masters.’ Which is cool but at the same time fake it until you get it. Act like you’re there. And I didn’t. I could have easily got out and regrouped somehow, but I pulled the trigger and pushed it into Trees and I crawled around par at 15.
“I should have made a better second shot. The 12th hole that day played particularly hard, especially with the wind, and a few people in front of us hit the ball as well. So, [the shot at 12] can happen. Because after that I did 13 birdies and had a good chance at 14. So I was still at it, connected to Tiger, so 15 was the stroke that stopped my lap.
“I was on the [pine] Needles right and I had to hit a low shot because I had some branches in front of me. So I tried chopping a 4 iron down the hill and I was trying to get to the left side thinking I was going to chop up the hill at that flag. But I just hit my second shot, probably 5 meters too far. And then I had the branches of the tree in front of me. “
Pandemonium on the 16th.
The shot that helped seal the tournament for Woods was his 8-iron on the par-3-16 course, flying to the right side of the green, landing on a slope, kicking left, and heading towards the hole gained momentum. It stopped a few yards away for a birdie that gave it a two-shot advantage.
“We’re on the 17th tee, Tiger hits and lands on the hill and it starts to trickle,” said Simpson. “We have a perfect view. The crowd is so excited. They want it to go in. It looks like it’s going in. And [Simpson’s caddie] Paul [Tesori] turns around and looks at me and says, “What if that comes in?” It was one of those moments that you will never forget. The crowd is so loud that they cannot hear anyone on the tee. That was a cool moment too. “
The critical discount on 17
The last time Woods was in that position at the Masters – a 2-shot lead with two holes in 2005 – he turned both the 17th and 18th holes to fall into a playoff that he was against Chris DiMarco won.
There was still a lot to do after the birdie on the 16th hole.
“The tee he hit on the 17th was everything to me in my opinion,” said Justin Rose, who followed the final lap from home after missing the cut. “This is just a tee shot you can’t hide from. It’s instant. It’s like you’re either hitting him directly or you’re in the trees. With a 2-shot lead, 17 was the only hole that really could have done it. ” difficult for him. So that was cool to see. “
Woods tied his tee shot into the fairway and threw his approach to 10 feet, narrowly missing a birdie putt. He went to the 18th tee with a 2-shot advantage.
The scene at 18
After he had punched the winning putt, Woods raised his arms in triumph and finally walked down a slide from the green to the scoring area, where cheers and chants rang in his ears.
Near the clubhouse, a group of several players, including former Masters Bernhard Langer, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson, waited for him to wear their green jackets.
Other players were also there, including Koepka, Poulter and Xander Schauffele, who finished second along with Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
“I wanted to congratulate him,” said Schauffele. “I didn’t know him very well then, but I know him a little better as he was the playing captain in the Presidents Cup. It was an unforgettable sight. Augusta is known for being very calm and reserved, traditional … and it was a circus when tiger came out of hole 18. I guess any green jacket [Augusta National member] loved it. It was something that didn’t happen there too often. “
The green jacket ceremony
Due to the weather problems, a second ceremony was not originally planned to take place on the putting green, as is customary. Numerous chairs are usually set up for Augusta National members and various golf dignitaries to watch the ceremony. Chairman Fred Ridley makes various remarks before the defending champion pulls the jacket over the new one. That didn’t happen in 2019.
After the Butler Cabin Ceremony went as scheduled for the CBS audience, Woods had a stripped down ceremony on the 18th green where Patrick Reed pulled on the jacket, presented Woods with the Masters trophy, and there was a long photo session to cheer the crowd .
“When I had finished [playing]As I sat there and waited and watched it unfold and then saw Tiger do the putt to win, it was inspiring, “said Reed.” It was incredible to put the jacket on him. The only thing I could think about was not to mess it up. I remembered putting his jacket on correctly. And we did that job. But it was a special moment.
“Growing up watching him win everything and how dominant he was and how focused and energetic he was and what talent he had was just amazing. It definitely got me and others to push and try really hard to get to that kind of level. I know I’ve ground harder and worked harder because I’ve seen Tiger do what he did. “
In the twilight
After his media interviews, Woods went to the Champions’ locker room – where he shares a locker with 1956 champion Jackie Burke, the oldest living Masters champion.
And then, in a twist, he had his green jacket tailored, a process that took about 90 minutes. During that time, Woods returned to the Butler Cabin for a 15-minute interview with CBS’s Jim Nantz, which aired during the replay of the finals. There was a cocktail party in the clubhouse and then a reception in the founders room that included a moving speech from Woods to the members. He later posed for photos with anyone who asked.
Because the day started so early, Woods emerged from all of his commitments to a different scene than what he had seen in each of his previous four Masters wins. Instead of darkness there was still light.
“I’ve never seen the golf course so empty,” said Woods. “I was out there with Sam and Charlie and said, ‘That’s Augusta National.’ You see the beauty of it. The rolling hills. The perfect grass. It was pristine.
“It’s so different when no one is out there. Then they started to understand how beautiful the place is.”