The Masters fans were voting with their feet. The minute Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker hit their tee shots on No. 10, hundreds of spectators pulled up stakes and headed for the exits. Some of them stopped to buy souvenirs on the way out, but most of them looked like they wanted to beat the traffic jam on Washington Road. They appeared to be long-time badge holders; most of them had green folding chairs slung over their shoulders.
Granted, Tiger Woods trailed Immelman by six strokes when the fans bolted. But is that the only reason people come to a major any more? To cheer for Tiger and Phil?
It reminded me of the time, some years ago, when I was following a certain Japanese touring pro in the final round of the Hawaiian Open. This fellow, who addressed his putts with the toe of his putter off the ground, missed a putt on the 17th hole that would have tied him for the lead with Jack Renner, who was signing his card in the scorer’s tent. But the 18th was a par 5, so a playoff was a real possibility – a playoff that would start on the 16th hole.
So as hundreds of us were following the final pairing to the 18th tee, two young guys with beers in their hands came walking the opposite way, against the tide. “You’re making a big mistake,” one of them yelled to a friend in the pack. “It’s all going to happen on sixteen!”
You can probably guess what came next. I was standing roughly twenty feet from Isao Aoki when he holed out his third shot for eagle to win the tournament. The two beer buddies, meanwhile, were standing under a palm tree by the sixteenth green. I’ve always wondered what they thought when they heard that incredible roar.
Of course, the dopes probably claimed later that they saw Aoki’s shot – just as those who split the Masters at five would have claimed that they had witnessed Tiger’s incredible comeback, if one had occurred.
Now if I were the Augusta National chairman, I might look at this differently. I might ask myself why badge holders are walking out before the leaders get to Amen Corner. I might question recent course changes that have turned the back nine into a joyless hike. I might remember when great players could make final-round charges with eagles and birdies – not stagger home with white-knuckle pars and bogeys. And I’d probably take steps to make certain that there’s a full house the next time history is made.
Oops, gotta go. Don’t want to miss the green jacket ceremony.