At one end of the driving range was Ernie Els, exchanging occasional comments with KJ Choi, stationed next along the line. Then there was Stewart Cink and Dustin Johnson, and then a big gap before arriving at the solitary figure of Luke Donald, working in silent contemplation of another major opportunity already passed with a round still to go, replaying shots in his mind that he wishes he
could play again.
No caddie on hand, it was just Donald and his bag. This Masters scenario will not sit well with the world number four, who shot 75, three over par, in the third round. They say the third round is ‘moving day’, just not always moving in the right direction. Donald has three top-10 finishes in eight previous Masters appearances, but he will be hard-pressed to earn a fourth today.
Defending champion Bubba Watson started hitting balls and the crowd behind the range grew. Bubba is cherished at Augusta – a good ol’ southern boy like many of the patrons here – and with his open stance and shuffling feet, he arrowed wedges impressively upon one of the yellow flags.
With Bubba, the regret of his performance this week must be balanced by relief. In a few hours he will no longer be the Masters’ defending champion, this chapter in his career ends, and he can return to concentrating on his game, his family and his General Lee with less intrusion.
Back on the putting green, Matteo Manassero appeared. The Italian missed the cut on Friday but has stayed on to enjoy the pristine practice facilities at Augusta National. He worked hard with his coach on his putting stance, his head position, his putting swing plane, but his concentration was broken by a brief exchange with Jason Dufner. Whatever Dufner said, it made Manassero laugh, and their conversation ended with Dufner calling from the edge of the green: “Take those recipes back to Milan with you.”
A hush fell over the putting green with the arrival of Tiger Woods. He didn’t stop to sign autographs, and did not look up to say hello to anyone; patrons, players, caddies or coaches, and as if someone had flicked a switch on the back of a flagpole somewhere, the atmosphere on the practice ground changed.
Gone were the regrets, the wishes to turn back the clock, replaced by golfers with intent and with steel in their eyes. Tiger, beginning today’s round four shots off the lead, started his warm-up with a right-handed putting drill, while at the other end of the green was Matt Kuchar – three shots off the lead, stroking balls across the green.
This is where final-round tension at the Masters begins.
Robin Barwick travelled to the 2013 Masters with Mercedes-Benz, International Partner of the Masters Tournament