AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods has still never rallied in the final round to win a major title, but his comeback quest on Sunday -- he briefly tied for the lead after eagling the par-5 8th hole and remained in contention the rest of the day -- helped create a uniquely charged atmosphere at Augusta National. As Woods chased a fifth career green jacket through the Augusta's famed pines, he scooped up gallery members on Sunday afternoon like a pied piper.
"I can't even talk without sounding nervous because this is so exciting," said first-time Masters patron Rosie Thomasek, 49, of Costa Mesa, Calif., who abandoned her seat near the 18th green to hustle after Woods. "I saw Tiger birdie 6, and I could see that put him in the zone. To me, he had his old self about him. He knows any birdie he makes now is messing with the people around him."
As Woods came through Amen Corner, fans were packed under the pines several hundred feet behind the ropes in hopes of a glimpse (they surely weren't going to get anything more) of Woods's Sunday run. When Tiger's playing partner, Martin Laird, stiffed his approach on 11, a buzz went through the crowd as fans couldn't see where it came from. When Laird finally appeared on the green and marked the ball, a loud groan went up from the thousands of folks who missed the origin of the shot. Woods went on to two-putt for par at 11, then three-jacked for bogey the par-3 12th, which caused a much louder wail from disappointed fans. As he played on, his gallery continued to swell. "The atmosphere is fantastic," said Tom Slain of Arcadia, Ind., who was attending his first Masters. "You can see photographers chasing him. You couldn't ask for a better finish."
Woods only made one more birdie coming in, but he received a standing ovation when he approached the green at 18. When the crowd fell silent to allow Woods and Laird to study their putts, one fan hollered above the din, "You're a legend Tiger!" Woods went on to two-putt for par, which gave him the lead in the clubhouse at 10 under. That score was surpassed later in the day by champion Charl Schwartzel (-14), Jason Day (-12) and Adam Scott (-12). Woods finished tied for fourth.
Fans were treated to a back nine that was as wild and unpredictable as any in recent memory. Playing in one of the earliest groups among the contenders, Woods helped ratchet up the crowd's energy to levels not typically found at Augusta.
"When they threw up Tiger's birdie and an eagle at the same time [on the scoreboard at 11], this place went crazy," said Fred Roddy, a 53-year-old Atlanta native who was attending his 15th Masters. "People here are usually polite. It's not a party, it's about the golf.
"But this is as nuts as it ever gets."
(Photo: Fred Vuich/SI)