AUGUSTA — The gates for the final round of the Masters open at 8:00 a.m, with a sizeable queue having begun to form at daybreak. These passionate Masters fans are ready to race pell mell to a favorite spot on the golf course. They will flock to Amen Corner, the bleachers at No. 15, and the knolls wherever a vantage point will bring them into close proximity to the action with the tournament on the line.
Some will camp out a No. 18 green and wait at least six hours before the first group finishes play. Then they will wait another five hours or so for the final pairing, which more often than not will showcase the ultimate winner. Some spectators work as hard at obtaining the best viewing options as the players do in winning the championship.
The passionate fans want to be there, front and center, when the critical shots are being made on the final nine holes of play. Their goal is to be within arms length of the competition when the final putt falls into the cup on the last hole. There is nothing quite like the final round drama at the Masters, especially on the last nine holes. Ken Venturi, former CBS analyst, takes credit for the line, “The Masters begins on the final nine holes on Sunday.”
Results of the last ten Masters reflect that Venturi’s assessment is correct. With the drama often comes heartbreak. Coming close at the Masters often brings about further opportunity, but many who land in the runner-up category fade away, some depressingly. In 1975, when Jack Nicklaus edged out Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf when they missed birdie putts on the final hole, Weiskopf, who finished runner up at the Masters four times, sat dejectedly in the locker room and said, “You just don’t how many times you will ever have another opportunity to win the Masters.”
Ernie Els, twice a runner-up at Augusta, can relate to Weiskopf’s analysis. He was practicing on the putting green in 2004 when Phil Mickelson sank a birdie putt at No. 18 to win his first major championship. That kind of excitement has come to be expected late afternoon on Sunday at the Masters.
In the last 10 years there have been four playoffs and unforgettable moments like Mickelson’s in 2010 when he won his third Masters title. His six-iron second shot on No. 13 from the pine straw between two pine trees to the green, four feet from the pin, is a shot that is not only replayed on television, it is replayed constantly in the mind’s eye of all who witnessed his dramatic shot.
Masters fans will continue to replay Bubba Watson’s 164-yard wedge shot to the 10th green to defeat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff last year. Starting with Monday's practice round, they streamed to the spot where Bubba hit his big hook from the right side of the No. 10 fairway to set himself up for victory.
Final-round drama and heroics began at the Masters as early as 1935, when Gene Sarazen made his famous double eagle at No. 15 to advance into a 36-hole playoff with Craig Wood, whom he defeated 144-149.
Sarazen’s double eagle has been replayed as long as the Masters has been played. He replayed it in person until his death in 1999. In his recall of his shot, heard around the world, Sarazen once noted that his double eagle would have meant nothing if he had not defeated Woods for the Masters title.
How many references have been made this week to Oosthuizen’s double eagle at No. 2 last year? Very few. The talk has been about Bubba’s wedge shot in the playoff at No. 10.
If tradition holds, there will be some sort of memorable shot-making expected late this afternoon, as the sun sets on the 2013 Masters. For those who got up at sunrise to find the best seat location for the anticipated Masters drama, the long wait will have been worth it.
Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at email@example.com.