I am sitting on a coach en route to Atlanta airport reflecting on Sunday at Augusta, and I can’t stop smiling. What a day.
Having been there for the par three event and also for the second round, we knew the best bet was to get there early on Sunday so we drove past Magnolia Drive and got to the gates at 7am.
There was already a huge crowd there and lots of Aussies around, all of us pumped and hopeful that today might finally be our day.
I had linked up with three Sydney blokes from the tour group, all golf tragics like me and our plan was to head straight to the 18th green, stake out the best spot and place our chair there so we’d have a seat for the last few groups up the final hole.
We got third row, just in line with the front bunker and close to the pin – the omens were good. By the end of the day the chairs were at least 25 deep all round the green, plus thousands more standing!
We then spent the next few hours soaking up the Augusta National atmosphere. This place is unbelievable. Golfing nirvana.
The course is postcard perfect there is not a blade of grass out of place, the queues move quickly because there are thousands and thousands of attendants there to make sure everything runs smoothly.
I spent some more coin in the gift shop and then it was time to watch some golf.
We followed a few of the early groups around the front nine. Bubba was bombing his driver and making a heap of birdies and bogies – he didn’t care this year, and didn’t need to.
Ryo Ishikawa went on a birdie blitz. Rickie Fowler was wearing his Sunday fluoro orange get-up and was strutting down the par five second like he owned the joint – and to be fair, he’s got some game to match his outfit.
Big Phil lumbered around the front nine making par after par, no doubt regretting opening his big trap and saying after day one that, “the course is there for the taking, I’m going to shoot at pins all week”.
We followed Rory for a few holes – what a pure swing. To be fair, we actually followed Caroline Wozniacki for a few holes (I’m sure she smiled at me).
Poor Rory was struggling though and Caroline was looking bored. Westwood and old Bernard Langer were making birdies and the excitement was building as it got closer to the time for the Aussie boys to tee off.
We soon realised that the predicted ’26 degrees and sunny with the chance of late showers’ wasn’t going to happen.
All four of us were in shorts and golf shirt with no jacket or umbrella – rookie error, as you would have seen from how the weather ended up.
As the rain came in, lightly at first, we stood at the spot on the 10th where Bubba hit his hook wedge last year – way left from the pine straw (you have to see this spot to realise what an insanely ridiculous golf shot that was).
We then decided the only thing to do was to steel ourselves from the cold with a few beers, a $1.50 egg-salad sandwich and head back to see the last few groups tee off the front nine.
We camped behind the second green, a reachable par five. The crowd surged as Tiger paraded through wearing Sunday red.
The social American golf fan is more into celebrity spotting than the golf, so there was a huge group trailing Tiger. In fact for a lot of the Americans, Masters week is a huge social thing, something like Melbourne Cup day for us.
We were standing right next to the second green and saw Jason Day hit his long iron approach into the front pot – but then sink his bunker shot for eagle!
He had started birdie, eagle – an Aussie was leading the Masters again on the final day. The crowd went nuts.
We waited for Leishman and Scott to come through – both made disappointing pars on a hole where lots of birdies were being made.
We spent the next hour or so interchanging between the two Australian groups and Snedeker/Cabrera. Day looked so solid. Cabrera made birdies to match Day atop the leader board.
We stood behind the par three fourth, a brute of a hole – 240 yards into the wind, elevated tee and deep bunkers front and left.
Adam flushed a four-iron as pure as you like – it pitched two yards in front of the pin but then the undulation took it over to the left.
You could not have hit a better golf shot on this hole, yet it was still a 15-foot side hiller for the bird. His putt grazed the hole – he was a couple behind the leaders at this point.
We then perched behind the reachable par five eighth. Day hooked his approach badly but then made a miraculous 40-yard bump and run chip from the pine straw, over two steep mounds and nestled 10 feet from the pin on the upper tier – but he missed the putt. Damn!
Adam flushed a drive and then a three-iron and was on in two, about 40 feet away. We all groaned when he left his eagle putt 10 feet short and then just missed his bird. It looked like he couldn’t be hitting it any better, but the putts just weren’t dropping.
We then heard big gasps and groans and turned to see the leaderboard showing Day had made back to back bogies, and suddenly Cabrera was out in front on his own by two.
Day and Scott were a couple back and Leishman was treading water – not making many greens in regulation but making some good par saves. That boy can putt.
After Cabrera’s birdie, we all looked at each other with a sick feeling, thinking surely this was not going to be another year of pain. But it wasn’t looking good.
Cabrera is a majestic ball striker and he was marching around Augusta imperiously, joking with his caddy son and looking like he wasn’t feeling an ounce of pressure. We certainly all were.
By now the crowds were massive. Loud roars and groans were echoing around those huge pine trees and we kept glancing nervously at the leaderboard, cheering every birdie shown for the Aussies and trying hard not to cheer the bogies that the other contenders were making.
It’s frowned upon to do that around Augusta – although I’m sure Craig Parry would beg to differ after how the Americans treated him when Freddie won in ’92.
We headed to the 15th and 16th, both of which are iconic holes at Augusta. 15 is a reachable par five, but only if you hit a perfect drive and are prepared to take on the pond in front of the green (there’s water behind it too).
We were sitting right in the grandstand as Bo Van Pelt, having laid up, dunked his wedge approach for a superb eagle and his playing partner Sergio (who had done likewise) stiffed his wedge to two feet. Again, the crowd went crazy.
Tiger came through and made a two-putt birdie. He then had a makeable putt for birdie at 16 and as always, the ‘you’re da man’ chants went up.
We smiled inwardly when he missed the putt, knowing that the champ had left his run too late this year (and also thanked the rules officials for that two-shot penalty for the dodgy drop on Friday).
At this point it was Day and Cabrera equal atop the leaderboard. Still on 15, we saw Day in the middle of the fairway, about to take on the water carry with a long iron approach, across the pond in front of the green.
Garcia and Van Pelt had laid up but Day’s drive was perfect and so he went for it – and made it on!
Again, huge cheers, my heart rate was going a million miles a minute … and he two-putts for an awesome birdie. Suddenly Day is in front by one to Cabrera, with Adam two back.
Thinking Day was our man, we start racing back up to 18 to our seats. On the way, we stand in line with Adam for his approach to 15.
He is hitting from almost the same spot as Day and is taking on the water carry. Our heart is in our mouth before the shot, as a few punters had told us what had happened to Scotty on 13, where his long iron had only just made it across Rae’s Creek.
But we needn’t have feared, as he yet again flushed a long iron, it sailed truly across the pond and he two-putted for the bird.
Taking a strategic pitstop en route, all the Americans are back slapping us and saying how great it is that an Aussie – Jason Day – will finally break through.
We smile through clenched teeth and remind them it ain’t over yet, with memories of past heartbreak over many years still vivid.
We arrive at 18. Right be the green. Three rows back. It’s cold and wet. I mean it’s seriously cold and we are all drenched to the bone, teeth chattering, nervously looking at the leaderboard and watching the last few groups come through.
Groan as the scoreboard clicks over!! Day has bogeyed 16. Groan! Cabrera makes a birdie on 16. Bigger groan!
Day has also bogeyed 17. The Americans start saying “this was Day’s Masters to lose” or “Cabrera knows how to close it out”.
We clench our jaws, keep shivering and try to resist the urge to tell them to jam it up their ginger.
Day comes up 18 and he is now one behind Cabrera. He knows he needs a birdie to give him even a chance at a playoff.
The crowd roars as his approach is true and lands 15 feet from the cup.
But you could hear a pin drop as he stands over the putt … the absolute silence of such a huge gathering of people is almost eerie. The putt rolls closer and closer … and slides by the hole, to a huge groan.
We are gutted. Day trudges off the 18th straight to his missus and baby, looking like his whole world has caved in.
All our hopes are now with Adam. He’s eight-under and equal leader with Cabrera, who is in the final group.
It’s still freezing. Umbrellas are stupidly allowed in the seating area, but the crowd manages to shout most of them down with chants that included, “open up your hearts, close your umbrella!” so we had a clear view.
Adam’s drive is yet again down the middle. The heart rate is out of control – mine that is. He hits his iron truly but leans slightly to the left – but we roar in approval when the ball lands on the slope and feeds back to about 15 feet.
We have a sensational view of what he has upcoming. We stand and scream encouragement as he walks up that extremely steep hill (which is reminiscent of Royal Northbridge’s famed closing hole).
It is like the entire crowd are Aussies. After a long read of the putt, he stands over it, hits it….we all stand as one….and the putt drops in the left edge! I am getting goose bumps typing this. It was incredible.
You’ve all seen his reaction – he, and we thought that was the winning putt.
But then we see a ball nestled in the middle of the fairway. We soon see Cabrera loping up to it. We keep saying to each other – “surely this can’t happen to an Aussie AGAIN at Augusta”.
But Cabrera, like the prizefighting competitor that he is, stiffs his approach to 3 feet. Un-flipping-believable.
After powering up that hill like a steam train, he takes barely any time over the putt, walks straight up and jams it in the hole as though it’s as big as a bucket.
At this point, our heads are down. It was a terrible feeling and while we were all trying not to say it out loud, we were thinking the worst.
Did I mention it was cold and wet? For the first time, we actually started to feel the cold.
After barely a delay, the playoff was on, up 18 again. Scott and Cabrera’s balls were almost side by side on the fairway and there was a delay as they worked out who was away first.
Adam hit first and his iron was short this time and only just held up on the fringe. Cabrera though did likewise and spun back further.
We were directly in line with the chips. Cabrera looked so pumped as his ball rolled agonisingly close to the hole and almost dropped. Adam hardly took any time over his chip, but he left it four-feet short, probably misjudging how wet the greens were by this stage.
We could barely watch the putt. Surely this wouldn’t be the way Scotty, of all people after the British last year, would lose a Masters.
No way – he drained it and again the crowd went crazy as the playoff went to a second extra hole.
At this point it was so wet that a few Americans went home. Can you believe that?
We bolted (or tried to bolt) down the 10th, as about 15,000 people did likewise. When I say bolt – you can’t actually run at Augusta.
A sheriff with a gun will tell you that in pretty firm tones if you try. So there were a whole lot of Kerry Saxby impersonations going on down that fairway.
The crowd roared with both approaches, but we could just make out through the rain and gloom that Adam’s ball was closer.
We pushed and nudged our way as close as we could, about 30 metres away, found a mound and stood on it for the putts.
As the Southerners would say – ‘y’all know what happens next’.
The roars, the goosebumps, the high fives, the hugging of new friends and complete strangers – it was all there. Again, it seemed like there were so many Aussies around that green and by the fairway.
By this point I was speechless – literally. My voice had just about gone hoarse.
We stayed around for a while on the 10th soaking it all up. Thoughts then turned to the green jacket.
We found the Butler’s Cabin. It’s basically a huge white house and yep, there were butlers out the front.
It took about 15 minutes, and by this time it really was dark, but out came the 14 year old amateur, then Bubba, then Adam!
We had formed a human tunnel and he walked through that tunnel to formally receive the jacket in front of the world’s media, each of us backslapping him as he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
So that was my Sunday at Augusta.
Sunday night was also great fun. We celebrated hard at a local pub with about 70 of us from the tour, some ribs and chicken wings, a karaoke rendition of ‘Land Down Under; and a few too many bourbons and jaeger bombs. When in Rome.
I’ve seen some pretty good live sport in my time, but this one now sits proudly on top of my leaderboard.
Simon Johnson is part of ABC Grandstand Sport’s ‘More Than A Game’ program that airs monthly