The first time I ever set foot on the grounds of Augusta National was in 2008. I was lucky enough to take in the opening round of that year’s tournament, along with witnessing first-hand a Tiger Woods chip-in for eagle and a hole-in-one by Ian Poulter.
Following that experience, I told plenty of people that I loved the course and wanted to go back, but that I would rather watch the tournament rounds on television so I could take in all of the shots instead of only the ones that happened right in front of me.
I was very wrong.
While it might be enticing to trade miles of walking, hours of waiting and plenty of sunburn for a day spent in air conditioning and having every big shot directly broadcast to you, there just isn’t an equivalent to taking it all in while out on the course.
Saturday began with everyone watching the weather reports, but – while impending rain forced a decision to start Sunday’s final round early – ended with a struggle to keep up with the leaders as shot after shot rolled in to set up what is sure to be an incredible Sunday finish.
The truth about Augusta National is that it’s simply too big and rolling to keep up with any one golfer through a round. But that didn’t stop the roars from reaching everyone who wasn’t there to see Tony Finau go out in 30. You didn’t have to be there to see Francesco Molinari charge into the lead at 13 under par and you certainly didn’t have to witness any of Tiger Woods’ heroics as he charged up the leaderboard to 11 under.
The thing about watching any tournament on television is that you get to see shots play out in real time – and that’s awesome. But there is something even more special about hearing a roar from a thousand feet away and having to wonder about what just happened.
Late on Saturday afternoon, there were so many cheers coming from so many corners of Augusta National that it became overwhelming.
For everyone perched at the 18th green, every shot into the final hole was readily apparent, but there was an added drama playing out on the scoreboard just to the left of the green. The crowd applauded every good approach and putt on the hole, but also responded every time the big leaderboard showed that someone still in the middle of their round had taken another step towards the top of the field.
For the first time in Masters history, groups will be going off, three-at-a-time off of both the first and tenth tees as the tournament races to beat impending afternoon thunderstorms and maintain a Masters tradition of never pushing the tournament finish back to a Monday.
While traditionalists might feel a slight sting in seeing players tee off from No. 10, the expedited finish to the tournament could provide even more drama.
Traditionally the famed “Sunday roars” come from the bottom of the course, in the middle of the back nine where low scores are often gained. But with the entire remaining field scheduled to tee off in just over a two-hour span on Sunday, the normal roars will start earlier and come more often.
This has been one of the wettest Masters on record. The course is playing long, but also soft, and will provide many risk-reward opportunities for everyone on Sunday.
For those of us lucky enough to be on the grounds Sunday, plenty of fireworks will be in store. The roars that define The Masters in person will come early and often. And, with a little cooperation from Mother Nature, they will set the tone for a tournament that is as close and as full of talent as any Masters competition has ever seen.
Mike Anthony is sports editor for the Statesboro Herald, a Morris Multimedia property in Statesboro, Ga.