The Masters is played over the first full week of April, and April in the South often means dramatic changes in the weather.

It’s usually beautiful. Most of the time, Masters visitors return home with permanently etched memories of brilliant azaleas, hundreds of snowy white dogwoods, majestic pine trees—they are so tall—and the brightest green ever to be seen anywhere.

But check the forecast. It can be cold and windy. Rain and thunderstorms may strike. The 2014 tournament week began with a wash out. Wind whipped in with the first round of play on Thursday. By Sunday, however, there was nothing ahead but blue skies for Bubba Watson.  For real golf fans, no matter the weather, the whole experience is just about perfect. 

“Lost Monday” leads to traditional Tuesday:

On the sunday before the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament, 88 junior golfers competed in the national Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club. The Masters Tournament Foundation, the United States Golf Association and the PGA
of America started this new tradition during summer 2013. Qualifying tournaments are played in every state at hundreds of locations.
This year, 80 junior golfers, 40 boys and 40 girls, representing 30 states, have qualified for the 2015 finals to be played on Sunday, April 5. The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, along with the Junior Pass Program, which allows patrons to bring registered children, ages 8 to 16, free of charge, following certain protocols enumerated on masters.com, is designed to promote interest and participation in golf among children. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

Monday started on a more somber note. Every year, thousands of people from around the world make the pilgrimage to Augusta, many of them for just one practice round because that’s the only ticket they can obtain. The grief was palpable when the first practice round was washed out by heavy rain early Monday morning and the course was closed. Wet conditions forced the players into the clubhouse and the spectators out of the gates.

Monday tickets don’t work on Tuesday. The thousands of faces, drenched with rain and disappointment, turned away Monday morning could have been leaving a funeral, such was their sadness from washed-out dreams.

“Lost Monday” leads to traditional Tuesday. The next day broke lovely if windy and Tuesday ticket holders were all smiles and run-walking in their eagerness to get through the gate, until the guards reminded, “There’s no running at the Masters.”

practice rounds

Practice rounds are fun. Tournament rounds are deadly serious.

The practice round spectators are easily categorized for the two different priorities that can be read on their faces and indicated by where they are standing. More than half are dressed in their spring finest, strolling around the vast open spaces, happily laughing among their well-dressed groups, and taking everything in, all except much of the golf. Their ages are decidedly younger than the regular patrons. Many are college students on spring break who’ve begged their grandparents’ badges for a day.

A minority are standing along the ropes beside the fairways watching the world-class golfers hitting two or three balls onto the greens and putting to phantom holes where they expect pin positions will be during the tournament. These spectators are conservatively dressed in Masters green. They have been here before and they can’t get enough.

The biggest news Tuesday was the absence of two Augusta National stars. The great Tiger Woods, the image of golf for the past decade-and-a-half, withdrew due to back surgery from an injury suffered a few weeks earlier. Woods has been the victim of bad luck and bad choices for several years. Will he ever return to the form that won him 14 major championships and four Masters Tournaments? In 2015, Woods will mark his 10th year without a Masters victory and the seventh since his last major championship at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008.

Also missing was Ike’s Tree. The huge 125-year-old loblolly pine that for decades guarded the left side of the 17th fairway was ravaged beyond repair by a devastating ice storm in February 2014. Ice did what President Dwight Eisenhower could not do during his play at Augusta; it took the giant down. 

 Tuesday evening brought a favorite Masters tradition. The annual champions’ dinner features a menu chosen by the reigning Masters champion served to all the former Masters winners present for the meal and the tournament chairman, currently Billy Payne. Among other Australian favorites, 2013 champion Adam Scott reportedly served bugs and passion fruit. Bugs are the Australian nickname for Moreton Bay bugs, a species of lobster from the land down under. Scott stopped short of putting another Aussie favorite on the menu, saying, “I don’t think I could feed Vegemite to Arnold Palmer.”

Wednesday morning broke with spectators’ and players’  light-hearted anticipation of the afternoon’s annual Par Three Tournament on the separate nine-hole short course. Spectators can be raucous and oblivious to the golf. There is a palpable release of pressure as players hit trick shots and joke with each other while many have their children or girlfriends carry their bags.

Watching all this, one would never know what awaits the next morning. It’s like a settlers’ hoe down just before the Indians come charging over the hill.

 Practice rounds are fun. Tournament rounds are deadly serious. The players live between anxiety and ecstasy. It’s the highlight of many golfing careers just to be invited to play, and the awareness of what a Masters victory could mean is almost too much for some to bear. The winner secures a green jacket, a Masters trophy, a lifetime of respect and admiration and enough income to do as he pleases. 

Thursday

…play was initiated at 7:50 a.m. by the Big Three…

Play was initiated Thursday morning at 7:50 a.m. by the Big Three—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—as honorary starters. The trio, who own 13 green jackets among them, opened the day’s sport with ceremonial drives off the first tee to cheers of generations of golf fans.  It’s a tradition like no other in sport.  Afterward, one by one, a field of 97 competitors launched their hopes from the first tee, following in the footsteps of game legends like Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros, who walked the same path to fame.

With no real leaders to follow early Thursday, patrons are free to leisurely take in the sites made internationally famous from six decades of television drama—the Hogan Bridge in Amen Corner, the grand stage that is the 15th green, the elegant antebellum architecture of the clubhouse and the closing stretch of holes where so much drama has played out for 76 years.

Haas’s 68 was the highest first-round lead since Trevor Immelman led with the same score in 2008.

South Carolina native Bill Haas shot an excellent wind-blown 68 for a one-stroke lead over three players who have been around at the end the past two years. Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, Masters champions in 2013 and 2012, were tied with 2012 playoff loser Louis Oosthuizen with 3-under scores of 69. There was a seven-way tie for fourth at 2-under 70. The group at 71 included the very popular 1992 champion and gallery favorite Fred Couples, World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, rising star Rickie Fowler, PGA Tour rookie Justin Spieth and Champions Tour rookie the enigmatic Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Scoring was up all through the field. Haas’s 68 was the highest first-round lead since Trevor Immelman led with the same score in 2008. In all, only 19 players fought it out with the winds to finish under par.

 “The pins were on the tougher side,” said Scott. Wind, hidden pins and hard and fast greens brought the field home with a first-round scoring average that registered 1.42 strokes higher than the year before. There were 12 opening round scores in the 60s in 2013 and only four in 2014.

 A veteran of the Tour, Haas knows the drill and that a first-round lead only means you have 54 holes to go. “I know there’s tons of golf left,” Haas said. “Maybe understanding that, I know that I can’t expect too much. You’ve just got to go out there and keep playing golf, try to hit that fairway on No. 1.”

Friday

Bubba Watson made birdie on holes 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16.

Bubba Watson hit the course just before 10 a.m. on Friday with a positive mind and a plan to “go low.” The 2012 Masters champion did just that, posting a 4-under 68 to get to 7-under for the tournament. Part of the way he got there was to make birdie on holes 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. When Watson finished, first round leader Bill Haas was still at minus-4 after the 5th hole. After the 18th and a 41 on the back nine, Haas had shot himself out of contention with a six-over 78.

“No, it’s never easy,” said Watson to the media after his round Friday. “It’s a great test of golf and I just got some good breaks, some good things that went my way. I guessed the wind right on that stretch of holes on the back nine.” 

Watson said a run of birdies like that is more than a few good swings and some nice putts. “It’s one of those where you’re not focused on what you’re doing, you don’t know that you’re making all these birdies; you’re focused on one shot at a time. At Augusta, that’s what you have to do….You’re not thinking you just made a birdie or your second birdie or your third birdie. You’re just trying to make the cut somehow.”

“The next two days might be horrific,” Watson told the press, “but at least I have that shot at it. The roars are good. But when you’re focused, if you watch me throughout the last two holes, I keep my head down, just so I don’t get energized, just so I don’t get pumped up, just to stay focused on what I’m doing and committed to what I’m doing.”    

While Watson’s second excellent round put him well ahead, his three-stroke lead also cut into the chances of those hoping to make the weekend cut by staying within 10 strokes of the lead. Among the dearly departed were Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Charles Schwartzel, Zach and Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner. It was the first time in 17 years that there would be no excitement from either Mickelson or Woods on the weekend at Augusta.

 Mickelson seemed in denial of his unacceptable score. “It was okay,” he said. “I didn’t play great. I didn’t play bad. I just had one bad hole there at 12.” Even with his dunked shot on the diabolical No. 12, Mickelson was two-under on the rest of his round. “I keep making these triples, they’re tough to overcome. It’s right on the bubble. I was looking at the cut line. I don’t want to be looking for the leaderboard, but I’m always fighting to make the weekend it seems like.” He missed the cut by one stroke, while Rory McIlroy shot four-over on the back nine Friday and made the cut on the number, plus-4.

 Because of an odd number of players, McIlroy played the final round with club member and several times club champion Augustan Jeff Knox, who outscored the Irishman 70 to 71. After winning the (British) Open Championship later in 2014, McIlroy told the media that he learned more about Augusta’s greens from watching Knox putt them than he had all the other times he had played there. McIlroy contacted Knox last summer to set up a couple of practice rounds with him before the 2015 tournament.

Missing the cut by 23 shots, the always popular 1984 and 1995 champion Ben Crenshaw announced last year that 2015 will be his final Masters as an active player. He will be 63 and playing in his 44th Masters. Crenshaw first broke the news to his long-time caddie, Augusta native Carl Jackson, while they played No. 13 on Thursday. In a revival of the Mayor’s Masters Reception this year, Jackson will be the guest of honor at the Monday afternoon fete. Though the mayor’s thank you party to the city won’t allow ample time for sharing Jackson’s many stories, attendees will appreciate that the caddy has walked more rounds at Augusta National than any living person and has been on friendly terms with every great golfer of this century and the last. 

Saturday

“It was crazy, crazy fast out there. I’ve never putted on greens like this before.”

Both Jordon Spieth and Bubba Watson reached 5-under and a share of the lead after Saturday’s third round of play, but they got there from different directions.

Spieth, 20, perhaps too young to realize how much pressure was on him, shot a 35-35-70, two under for the day and 5 under for the tournament. He couldn’t call it moving day since he didn’t move very far, but it was enough to move into a share of the lead. Watson likewise finished 5-under for the first three-fourths of the tournament, but he was losing ground with a 38-36-74. One of the few excited gallery roars of the day came at No. 2 when Watson rolled in an eagle putt. But his four bogeys on the front nine took the luster off a round that finished with one bogey and one birdie on the back nine. 

Spieth’s round didn’t do much more to get the gallery on the move, neither falling below the minus-3 where he started nor reaching above the minus-5 where he finished, carding two birdies and one bogey on both the front and back nines.

There was some excitement from the players who parked themselves within striking range when Saturday was over. Two players were just a stroke out of the lead at minus-4, starting with a 68 from the always smiling and popular Georgia Tech alum Matt Kuchar and the little known Swede Jonas Blixt, 29, who got it to minus-5 after a birdie at No. 9. Three bogeys on the back tied him with Kuchar, a stroke out of the lead. The two best rounds on the leaderboard came from the next two in the final pairings at minus-3: 2014 Champion’s Tour rookie Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and the always colorful Californian, Rickie Fowler. Jimenez made the biggest move with a seven-birdie 66, while Fowler snatched himself from plus-2 oblivion to minus-3 relevance with a six-birdie 67. Three veterans left themselves three strokes behind with three-day aggregates of minus-2: Thomas Bjorn of Denmark with a 67, perennial majors contender Jim Furyk, who shot a 66, and English journeyman Lee Westwood, who like Spieth shot a 35-35-70. Still just four strokes back, but probably with too many skilled players in front of them, was a group of four at minus-1. Easily the most exciting round of the day was Englishman and Ryder Cup demon Justin Rose, with a 69 that included two eagles. If there is such a thing as a “conventional” eagle, Rose had one of those at the par-5 No. 13 to go with a dramatic pine-shaking holeout from the fairway on the par-4 No. 3. Also tied with Rose in the last of the red numbers on the leaderboards were Fred Couples, 71, Craig Stadler, 72, and 42-year-old Australian John Senden, heading in the wrong direction with a 75. It was a difficult day to score in Saturday’s brisk winds. Spieth told the media, “Yeah, we kind of realized early how difficult this golf course was going to play today,” he said. “You could tell from No. 1 on. It was crazy, crazy fast out there. I’ve never putted on greens like this before.”  

Sunday

Bubba is crying again, but he’s smiling about it.

It’s Sunday at the Masters and somebody’s life is going to change by the end of the day. Even if the victor already has a green jacket, a second validates his standing among the virtuosi of the game. More hackneyed than most clichés, people are always repeating, “The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday.”

Not in 2014. The excitement was contained within the 8th and 9th holes.When Bubba Watson teed off looking up that huge hill on No. 8, he was also looking up at Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan who was leading him and the tournament by two strokes. Walking off No. 9, Spieth was two down to Watson and there would be no more fireworks the rest of the day. Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, mixed that exchange with a one birdie and one bogey for an even par back nine and a three-stroke win over Spieth and Jonas Blixt. Unchallenged since leaving the front nine, Watson’s 69 was the lowest score among the seven players in under-par red numbers on the leaderboard. Blixt was one under on the famous back nine and Spieth could do no better than one over par from the turn to the finish. Finishing fourth after a 71 was the enigmatic Migel Angel Jimenez. The lone others finishing under par were Rickie Fowler, 73, and Matt Kuchar, 74, who both finished at 2-under, and Lee Westwood in seventh place at minus-1 after a 73. The only Sunday scores lower than Watson’s were Stuart Cink with a too little, too late 68, which left him at plus-1 for the tournament, and Joost Luiten whose 67 took him from nine to four over par—not exactly a threat to Watson.

Augusta National is termed a “parkland course” in golf terminology. The finish Sunday sounded more like a walk in the park than the roaring sporting battlefield television viewing audiences around the world have come to expect for decades. Spieth told the media afterwards “that was fun” and that losing made him hungry to return. “But at the same time, it hurts right now.” Reminiscent of 2012, Watson walked off the final green in tears, but it was an entirely different set of emotions pouring from the man who was now a two-time Masters champion. Two years ago, it was the exhale of all the pent up anxiety from so many years of trying and hoping combined with the imminent arrival of his first child, Caleb, with wife Angie. This time, it was the deep inhale of his staying power.

The second time around Watson scooped up little Caleb as he waddled toward the green. What stress? Caleb looks happy and healthy. Angie looks relaxed. Bubba is crying again, but he’s smiling about it. “Having my son means more to me than the green jacket. To get the first one was a dream come true. To get a second one, it’s icing on the cake.

 Nice cake.

Nice jacket.

Nice trophy.

Nice job Bubba!

This article appears in the Masters 2015 issue of Augusta Magazine.