Magic at the Masters:
The 4 Most Memorable Moments

Simon Elliott

Veteran Masters Guide

Azaleas at Augusta National
Azaleas at Augusta National

Every year in the Southlands, just as spring is being sprung, Augusta National Golf Course plays host to a paradox of sorts.

Amidst the flora and foliage, Augusta’s famous azaleas are in full bloom – just as some of the world’s best golfers are falling apart.

The fact that this so often happens on Sunday, the final day of the Masters Tournament, makes the whole week leading up to it feel like one long prologue, dramatically followed by either rising or falling action (depending on the year). Either way, it always makes for a rousing climax.

The landscape, of course, helps facilitate the drama; the back side of Augusta National feels like a supernatural drain, into which dreams can all too quickly be washed away. But I like to think there’s something a little more magical afoot.

Whatever its cause, on a Masters Sunday drama never fails to unfold; the back nine turns into a place where dragons are slain, or dreams are dashed.

Over the years, it’s happened to some of the true legends of the game.

The Shark Capsizes

aka Mize’s Memorable Chip

Larry Mize knows all too well how quickly fortunes can change on Sunday. In 1987, as Greg Norman was collapsing in unforgettable fashion, one epic chip-in handed Mize the Green Jacket.

While it was Norman who seemed to have the life drained out of him, it was Mize who said “There’s less oxygen on the back nine Sunday at Augusta than there is the rest of the week.”

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The Golden Bear Roars Back

The year before Mize’s memorable chip, Sunday at the Masters produced one for the ages when Jack Nicklaus, then 46 years old and considered over the hill, came roaring back. At the time, some players had taken to calling the Golden Bear the “Olden Bear.”

They weren’t laughing on Sunday when, starting with a birdie on the 9th, he benefitted from what seemed like divine intervention. He rolled in another birdie on 10, and another on 11, and on and on throughout the back nine to make that Sunday one of the best of al time. USA today has called it “not just the best Masters ever, but probably the best major ever. ”

McIlroy’s Meltdown

Poor young Rory McIlroy falling to pieces on the back nine in 2011 is another example of the pressure, which can be crushing. On the par-four 10th he was so far off course he almost had to play through the living rooms in the cabins used to house club members. He watched his one-stroke lead transform into a 10-stroke deficit behind the eventual winner Charl Schwartzel.

Bubba’s Watson: That Shot

The very next year, Bubba Watson used a bit of Georgia magic to swing a ball out of the woods at a seemingly impossible angle and land it on the 10th green in a play-off. If it wasn’t a hometown bounce it must have been some kind of magic; only Sunday at Augusta could produce a shot like that.

Manufactured for Magic

Augusta National designer Bobby Jones
Augusta National designer Bobby Jones

I like to think that a lot of this back nine voodoo came from one of the founders of the course, Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr., and his immediate relationship with the home of the game, St. Andrews.

There are famous stories about Bobby Jones and St. Andrews. He hated both the course and the town in his frustrated youth, but as he grew into his shoes and became one of the game’s best, he developed not just a love but a devotion to it.

Golfers today’ have a similar relationship with the back nine on Sunday, an internal battle we can all relate to. Sometimes you’ll win it and sometimes you lose, but you must go through it nonetheless.

At the Masters, I like to think that golfers and patrons alike feel this on Sunday, and that it’s by design – imbued in the course by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts when they first looked out at Fruitland Nursery and set about converting it into the Cathedral in the Pines.

This is the magic that we at B&R are so grateful to witness at the Masters, year in and year out. There are great and amazing things to see throughout the rest of the week at the Masters, but more than any other tournament, it is Sunday that defines it.

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