I had not felt those deadline nerves in a long time, if ever.
After countless tournaments and close calls, the chances of actually covering Tiger Woods’ 15th Major championship victory skyrocketed as Francesco Molinari’s golf ball sank to the bottom of Rae’s Creek at Augusta National’s par-3 12th hole.
Like a spell had been cast over Augusta National’s lavish press building, a couple of hundred reporters mobilised and began furiously thrashing away at laptops. They were updating websites, newspapers and blogs across the globe – each reporter publishing a variety of the same message: ‘Tiger Woods has one arm inside the green jacket.’
Woods had threatened to win The Open at Carnoustie and the US PGA Championship at Bellerive the year before, and there was an underlying doubt he could do it. But the 2019 Masters had a totally different feel.
When Woods drew level with Molinari in the middle of Amen Corner, it became real. He now had as good a chance as any Major since the 2008 US Open to bag the elusive No.15.
That’s when the nerves set in.
Your columnist is this magazine’s US PGA Tour editor, but I am also the US golf correspondent for the Australian Associated Press. It’s a wire service for breaking news – and this was about as breaking as news gets. The tournament and player who each transcend not only golf, but sport, were about to collide. Spectacularly.
When Woods two-putted for birdie on the par-5 15th to take the outright lead after a rollercoaster 14 holes, winning seemed inevitable. When he stiffed his tee shot on the par-3 16th, the last two holes became more or less a victory lap.
But the last two holes were also when a wire service reporter’s heart begins to beat a little faster and the hands begin to shake a little.
Millions of Australians and New Zealanders are about to read your updates, stories, wraps and follow-ups. In the back of your mind, you’re wondering, Am I going to do a good enough job of reporting this where-were-you-when-it-happened occasion? I hope I did. It was the busiest and best day of my career. I wrote 4,100 words across nine stories (of varying length) from the moment Woods’ putt dropped on 18.
Phone calls were also coming in from matter-of-fact radio producers wanting me to talk on-air about Woods’ fifth Masters victory. One question put to me by the host of an ABC radio show was, “Will Tiger overcome Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 Majors?” My answer was along the lines of, “I don’t know if he will, but he certainly can. Winning one was inconceivable two years ago. Now, winning 18 or more has become one of those achievements you can’t say he will and you can’t say he won’t. Woods has a history of proving us wrong. He’s now world No.6 and as good a chance to win the next Major as any other player. Why can’t he?”
Perhaps the real question is: does it really matter?
Woods is going to go down as the greatest golfer who ever lived and one of the finest athletes the world has seen. He is in the same conversation as Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps – just to name a few. Winning 19 Majors would be amazing, it really would. But I don’t think Woods needs to.
If he is, though, he will need to make a dent this year.
The stars may never align this well again: he is in sensational form; the US Open is at Pebble Beach, where Woods captured the most dominant victory of his career; and the Open Championship is an unknown at Royal Portrush. No active player in the field has more experience or success in the UK Major than Woods.
From an Australian perspective, whether or not Woods wins another Major this year won’t stop the 2019 Presidents Cup from being the biggest in its 25-year history. Woods will become just the second playing captain since Hale Irwin at the inaugural Cup in 1994 and he will lead a star-studded US team against an International side with several home-grown and overseas big names – all fighting it out on Australia’s greatest golf course.
The myth that Americans won’t care about it is nonsense. Each session will be coming on Golf Channel’s coverage just after dinner and real golf fans will be watching avidly during prime beer-drinking hours.
As Australians, we need to move past the initial frustration that Woods has scheduled his Hero World Challenge against the Australian Open, one week before the Presidents Cup. We cannot expect him to care about our Open like we do.
Yes, the 18-man event in the Bahamas is a cash and world ranking points grab for elite players. But it also benefits Woods’ foundation immensely and means a lot to him.
You can count on one hand the number of available weeks on the PGA Tour’s schedule and Woods is not about to forego a slot he has earned through carrying the game of golf for more than 20 years.
Instead, remember that a reigning Masters champion – and the greatest golfer of all time – is genuinely excited to play a Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. He will relish taking on the shots the Composite course asks of golfers.
As the past 11 years have taught us, we don’t know if we will get another chance to watch Woods play in Australia as a reigning Major champion.