Tiger Woods' return to glory in an epic back-nine shootout: The 2019 Masters Rewatch
This is the last installment of our Masters Rewatch series, in which we watched and recapped the last 23 final rounds of the Masters while we’re working from home due to the coronavirus. What better way to get your Masters fix while in quarantine than by firing up YouTube and remembering all the stuff you might have missed from past Sundays at Augusta National? We hoped you enjoyed reading them as much as we enjoyed rewatching and writing these posts.
Some things are simply too good to delete off the ol’ DVR. The season one finale of “American Idol” comes to mind. So does the 2019 Masters—which, in my youthful opinion, is a top-two Masters of all time. And it’s not two.
To complete our Masters Rewatch series, I sat down—on the day Tiger Woods should have started his title defense—to relive the final round of the 2019 Masters in its entirety. I’ve gone through the chaotic back nine in my head quite a few times, but there were a number of pivotal moments on that Sunday morning that mattered just as much. Here’s what sticks out from rewatching one of the great sporting events of our lives.
1.) Let’s recall that the final group went off at 9:30 a.m. local time, nearly five hours before they’d normally do so in anticipation of thunderstorms that, thankfully, didn’t arrive until play ended. Jim Nantz opens the proceedings with the Nantziest line possible: “The skies are gray but the air is filled with anticipation.” That’s why they pay him the big bucks. The man could make checking the freezer for leftover pizza sound like a crusade of romance.
2.) Let’s also recall that the scoring on Saturday was stupid low. It was the first time in history that three players shot 64 on the same day—Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau. Francesco Molinari wasn’t far behind with a 66, good for a two-shot lead, whereas Tiger overcame a slow start to shoot 67. OK. Scene, set.
3.) Within the first 11 minutes of the broadcast, Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Louis Ootshuizen, Rickie Fowler and Justin Harding are all shown making birdie on No. 1. Sometimes the opener plays as the hardest hole at Augusta National. Not on that day.
4.) We hear the kind of distant roar Augusta is known for—all together now … roars echo through the pines—and soon after discover its source. Bryson DeChambeau, who has to be 40 pounds lighter than he was in his adrenaline-addled Twitch stream earlier this week, makes his first career hole-in-one at 16. He’s legitimately overjoyed and gives Kevin Kisner and amateur Takumi Kanaya impromptu hugs. You can tell Kiz isn’t a huge hugger.
5.) The starter on the first tee turns to the fellas and says, “Ready to play a little golf?” The crowd laughs. It’s a funny line … if it weren’t the same line the guy uses every single year, with seemingly every group. Now, not everyone has spent the past month watching and dissecting old Masters, so most people won’t be so keenly aware of this joke recycling. But I am.
6.) Tiger pulls 3-wood on 1 and it’s stripe city. Man, his swing was looking pure last year. Fluid, powerful, explosive, controlled. He wasn’t so much walking around as stalking. That was one fit freakin’ 43-year-old.
Kevin C. Cox
7.) Nick Faldo has a pretty eye-opening mess-up right off the bat on the telecast. Nantz makes a comment about how Tiger has never come from behind to win a major. Faldo quickly interjects with “I wouldn’t worry about one shot, though.” Sure, yeah, all right OK, the only thing is he trails by two. It’s only the biggest story in sports—Tiger going into the final round of the Masters trailing by two—and you’re unaware? We’ll give Sir Nick the benefit of the doubt, early wake up and all, and surmise that he merely misspoke.
8.) Molinari was a ball-striking machine for the first three days, hitting double-digit fairways each of the first three rounds and making only one bogey in his first 61 holes of the week. But his swing wasn’t the same on Sunday, and there were signs on the very first hole. From the middle of the fairway, he pulls a 5-iron well left. He ends up making par, but that was the type of loose shot he simply didn’t hit until Sunday.
9.) After a ho-hum par to start, Tiger snipe-hooks a drive way, way left on 2 into an area affectionately known as the “Delta Counter” … because if you hit it there, you’re probably needing to book a flight home because you're leaving the tournament early. That could have been it for Tiger—there’s a stream, wood chips, trees, etc. The broadcast then goes to commercial and comes back with a package on Faldo’s win in ’89. I remember this break feeling like a freakin’ eternity. Tiger has just hit one well left on 2, you haven’t told us whether it’s safe or not, and you’re running some package about a tournament 30 years ago? Turns out he got a break, was able to punch out to the fairway and made par.
10.) Tiger birdies 3 to get to one behind Molinari, and Faldo redeems his early error with some prescient commentary. He says Tiger is going to play this like a marathon, like he’s climbing a mountain. Simply stay close to Molinari throughout and wait for him to make the mistake. That is exactly what happened.
11.) This is a Dottie Pepper Appreciation Bit. She’s the best on-course analyst in the sport, and I don’t think it’s that close. She routinely comes through with digestible, insightful comments that make the viewer smarter. On 4, Tony Finau hits a nice chip to a few feet. Dottie: “Firm left wrist there, not a lot can go wrong with that technique.” She then calls Nos. 4, 5, and 6 the front nine’s Amen Corner, and notes how in recent years the stretch has played harder than real Amen Corner. Fantastic.
12.) Schauffele three-putts for bogey on 5, his par effort lipping out on the high side. Schauffele ends up losing to Tiger by one. It’s the ultimate cliché, but in golf, every shot counts the same, no matter if it’s a 350-yard drive on Sunday or a missed two-footer on Friday or a penalty stroke on Thursday. That little lip out, along with thousands of other shots, were the difference. The margins! They are small!
13.) Man, the newly lengthened fifth hole is an absolute beast. Finau’s 5-iron approach—Finau hitting a 5-iron into a par 4!—is right on line but comes up short of the ridge and rolls to the front edge. His first putt is as bad as you’ll see from a guy in the final group of a major, failing to get to the upper plateau and leaving a good 30 feet. He makes bogey, as does Tiger, who bogeyed it each of the four days. Molinari gets up-and-down from short of the green to push his lead to three.
14.) Things aren’t looking so good for TW after the par-3 sixth. He trails Molinari by three. Molinari pumps his tee shot well over the green. Not dead, but not a good spot at all, given the green runs back-to-front. Tiger sticks his tee shot to eight feet, directly below the flag. Tiger misses his putt and Molinari gets up-and-down, and all the sudden a two-shot swing is a zero-shot swing. At that point, you think it might not be in the cards for Mr. Woods.
15.) It changes on the next hole. Molinari’s luck finally runs out, as he’s unable to overcome a pulled 3-wood and makes bogey. It’s his first bogey in 50 holes, halting the second-longest streak in Masters history. Tiger, meanwhile, turns to his trusty trap-fade and hits it to tap-in range. There's the two-shot swing that evaporated the previous hole. Tiger is one back.
16.) Tiger was in full-on gamesmanship mode, and nowhere was it more evident than on the eighth hole. Tiger hits his tee shot well right, into the trees. Molinari hits his into the bunker. As Molinari is preparing to hit his layup, Tiger is visible in the screen, about 80 yards ahead, looking at the green. Make no mistake: He’s sending a clear message to Molinari that he’s going for the green. Tiger ends up making birdie, but Molinari does as well.
17.) Tiger’s lag putt on No. 9 gets a ton of (deserved) attention, but Koepka had virtually the same one in the group ahead and did just as well. Brooks is unfairly characterized as a brutish bomber, but he wins with his touch around the greens just as much as his prowess off the tee. He really hung around all day.
18.) Tiger hates his approach on the ninth, as he knows right when he hit it that it was going long-left of the pin, into really tricky two-putt range. He does fantastically well and pumps his fist after it trickles out to a few inches. A fist pump on a lag put!
19.) Schauffele drops a 50-footer, downhill, left-to-right to steal a birdie on 11. He then sticks his approach to about 15 feet at 12 to announce that he’s absolutely in it. Meanwhile, Tiger fans a 3-wood off the tee at 10 and makes bogey. Molinari gets up-and-down from left of the green for yet another scrambling par, and he has just 13 putts through 10 holes.
20.) Three hours into the broadcast we’re shown our first amateur, Viktor Hovland. Ever hear of him? The Oklahoma State star and reigning U.S. Amateur champion shoots 72-71-71-71 to take low amateur honors. Ten months later, he would become a PGA Tour winner.
21.) OK, here we go, Koepka’s 9-iron on 12 lands into the bank and trickles back into the water. Hard to overstate just how shocking that mistake was. Koepka had played extremely solid up until then, and he’s the furthest thing from inexperienced in the majors. It truly came out of nowhere. Poulter does the same thing not three minutes later.
22.) Tiger tries to hit a draw on 11 tee but fails miserably, sending a foul ball into the right trees. He gets super fortunate again to have a shot at the green and comes up with a tight draw to the center from 182, with water left. That one won’t live forever like some other shots from this round, but it was as important as any.
23.) The final threesome are made to wait for about five minutes on the 12th tee as they watch Poulter and Koepka make double up ahead. (Koepka, by the way, missed about a six-footer for bogey). Certainly not the best visual. Molinari plays first, and Frank Nobilo gives us a solid announcer jinx right before he hits: “Made 2 here yesterday.” The strike doesn’t sound pure, and his 8-iron lands into the bottom part of the bank and rolls into the water. It never had a chance. “That was just so weak,” Faldo says. Indeed. Tiger then goes way left, safely onto the green. Finau, too, finds the drink. Woods was on the left side of the putting surface while Molinari and Finau hit their third shots. Gamesmanship again. Tiger leaves himself a good five feet for par, and after Molinari plays his third to about 10 feet, you begin to think Molinari might escape losing only one to Tiger, if any at all. Instead, he misses and TW makes.
Tiger, Molinari and Schauffele, who just birdied 13, share the lead at 11 under. Bubba Watson eagles 15 to get to 10 under, and Jason Day is there as well, but those guys are both out of par 5s to feast on.
24.) Koepka bounces back with a fist-pump inducing eagle at 13, and he’s back in a tie for the lead at 11 under. Meanwhile, Cantlay eagles 15 to get to 12 under and holy hell, he’s the solo leader!
25.) Tiger and Molinari both birdie 13. Woods and Molinari now share the lead at 12 under. Shortly thereafter, Koepka birdies 15 to get to 12 as well. Birdies are flying everywhere. Woods and Molinari par 14. Up ahead, Schauffele fails to birdie 15. Super duper costly. Woah! Here comes DJ! He birdies 13, 15, 16 and 17 to get to 12 under. The birdie at 17, to tie the lead at the Masters, elicits the most low-key fist-clench ever from DJ. Classic DJ. It’s now a four-way tie: Tiger, Molinari, DJ and Schauffele. The key difference: Only Molinari and Woods still have a par 5 to play.
26.) The debacle at 12 gets all the press, but Molinari really, truly blew it at 15. His third shot hits a pine cone and lands in the water. This was after Tiger hit two perfect shots to leave himself about 40 feet for eagle. Molinari can’t get up-and-down for bogey, Tiger two-putts for birdie. He leads by himself at 13 under.
27.) Tiger hits an absolutely perfect draw 8-iron at 16 to about four feet and converts. At this point, you’re finally thinking: holy crap, Tiger Woods is going to win the Masters. He converts. After DJ misses a 17-footer for birdie at 18 and Schauffele also couldn’t post 13 under, Koepka is the only guy with a realistic chance to chase down Tiger. He’s two back with two to play, and he misses a good look at 17 for birdie. Tiger then pars 17 to stay at 14 under.
28.) Koepka sticks his second at 18 to just eight feet! Man, I forgot how close that birdie look was. He misreads the putt—the 18th green was new this year, and caused problems all week—and Tiger has a two-shot lead coming to the 18th tee.
29.) Tiger likes his tee shot, but it’s a bit of a fan, and he’s blocked out by the trees. He cuts an 8-iron well short of the green, leaving a simple but screw-up-able chip. He nips it cleanly and it checks to 12 feet. He thinks he makes the par putt but it slides by, leaving about 18 inches. Nantz is already talking like he’s won—paging Scott Hoch—which would have been the announcer jinx to end all announcer jinxes. He pours it right in the middle. “THE RETURN TO GLORY!”