At The Masters
Heaven sits high above No. 18 at Augusta
AUGUSTA, Ga. » With Dean Wilson safely tucked in the clubhouse, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe turned to me and asked, "Have you got anything you need to do right now?"
I shook my head no as we left the interview area roped off behind the overcrowded 18th green. He told me to follow him to a spot that borders the left side of the closing hole if you're a golfer strolling up the final fairway. It took a few moments to negotiate our way through a crowd that was anticipating a dramatic finish.
The final five pairings were making their way to the 18th and Mr. Kragthorpe had a treat in store for me that I knew nothing about in my rookie campaign at the famed Masters. Seems there's a seating area above the crowd that's reserved for print media and still photographers.
If you have the proper credentials, you can climb up a Masters green ladder to a small press box area that's much like the two towers that house the CBS cameras and production crew in one and the CBS broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo in the other.
Those two towers are enclosed and sit directly behind and just to the left of the 18th hole. Our tower is open, has bleachers, seats about 30 and was hole high to the finishing pin that was sitting about 50 feet away from our location.
We took our seats on the front row, the CBS production team to our left, the 18th pin front and center, and the final fairway to our right. We were sitting in the cat bird's seat -- with the huge scoreboard across the way -- looking across the beautiful expanse of Augusta National.
"How much did these seats set you back?" I asked Mr. Kragthorpe, whose brother, Steve, is the head football coach for the Louisville Cardinals. He just smiled, then said, "We get to watch all the golfers coming in. It's awesome up here."
Oh yeah, baby, it was all of that as we took in the final hour of the Masters with a huge crowd billowing below us. The old-fashion scoreboard, which is a first cousin to Fenway's, told the story of where the leaders were and how many over par they were at that certain hole location.
A special press box at Augusta allows a view of golfers (such as Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor, above) coming up the 18th fairway, with the mammoth scoreboard as a backdrop.
Coming up the fairway, as we got comfortable, were Luke Donald and David Toms.
"Luke should have won at Sony this year," I said to Kurt. "And Toms won at Sony last year. Somehow, Paul Goydos won this year, which prompted Loren Roberts to say at the MasterCard Championship a week later, "If Paul Goydos won, I should still be on the regular tour (instead of the Champions)." It prompted a big laugh from Kurt just as Donald was about to putt for par.
No sooner were they gone, the scoreboard operator updated the numbers, letting us know that Tiger Woods had parred the 15th and little Zach Johnson birdied the 16th to hold a three-shot lead on the man who would be king. The crowd was buzzing as defending champion Phil Mickelson and Rory Sabbatini approached. Mickelson was a million over par, but Sabbatini had made a game of it, settling in at 3 over and an eventual tie for second.
As Mickelson slowly walked to his golf ball that was about 40 feet downwind of the hole, the groundswell of applause became louder with each step. Mickelson was dressed in black from head to toe, smiling that Mickelson smile, doing a small wave and a tip of the cap as the Masters patrons paid their respect to the defending champion.
"This is pretty cool," I say to Kurt, who just smiled and nodded his head. "Way cool, actually."
As they exit, stage left, it's time to watch Retief Goosen and Bradley Dredge. Dredge, who was paired with Wilson the first two days, began the day 5 over, but was somehow 15 over now. Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney was sitting behind me. He whispered in my ear, "Did you hear about Dredge?" I shook my head no.
"Seems when he left the clubhouse and was about to get to the first tee, he tells his caddie he forgot his golf balls." Wow.
"Looks like he should have forgot them, judging by that score," I say to Ed. Dredge bogeyed to finish 16 over. Goosen pars, comes in at 3 over and eventually finishes in a tie for second.
Next up is Johnson and Augusta native Vaughn Taylor. Johnson is in the middle of the fairway with a zero by his name at the 16th. His score hasn't been updated at the 17th, which the scoreboard operator decided to do in the middle of his approach shot. The crowd gasped when a green 1 went up, which meant he had bogeyed the 17th.
His approach landed on a small strip of grass between the green and the bunker guarding the right side. He's no more than 50 feet from the pin, directly across from me. But everyone in the press box is aghast at the scoreboard operator for posting the number in the middle of his back swing. Tiger's score remained a 3, which meant he had parred the 16th.
Little Zach Johnson needed to get up and down for par to hold his advantage over Woods. He chipped the ball on my direct line of sight.
"It's not going in," I say to Kurt as the ball rolls across the green. "But it's going to be close."
It wound up even with the hole, just a simple tap-in from 6 inches. The crowd goes wild. Little Zach Johnson has to be helped off the green by Taylor. He's breaking down because Woods has to birdie 17 and 18 just to tie him. The press box emptied out, but Kurt and I held our position as Irishman Padraig Harrington and Englishman Justin Rose finally came up after a 15-minute delay. Seems Rose had double-bogeyed the 17th to take him from 2 over to 4 over and out of the competition. He finished in a tie for fifth.
Woods parred the 17th and eventually parred the 18th as well, as he and Stuart Appleby closed the proceedings. The crowd is going wild for Woods, who finished tied for second. He took off his cap, shook Appleby's hand and cleared the way for Mickelson to put a green jacket on the shoulders of Little Zach Johnson.
We reluctantly climb out of the tower. I had thought about asking someone if it would be OK if I slept there until next year, but decided against it. The jacket ceremony is about to begin. It just wouldn't do to be seen stretching out for a long winter's nap as chairman Billy Payne held court. But if they let me back in next year, I'll be staking out my spot at the 18th as soon as the gates open.
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org