My first experience of Augusta came two weeks before the event. I was in the US, relaxing with some friends after playing at Doral and I took a couple of days out to go up to Augusta when it was quiet. There was nobody there and my plan was to get a taste of the aura of the place so I’d arrive on the Monday of tournament week ready to gear up for the Masters. I also wanted to know where the locker-room and the range was, where I had to park my car every day and generally get a feel for how it was all going to work. When I first arrived I was a bit like a kid in a candy shop. I went in the clubhouse, walked in the locker-room and went through to the back of the building where I stood on the veranda looking out on the course. I think I was stood there for five or 10 minutes just staring out, trying to take it all in. That was my first experience of Augusta.
Going out there for the first time, I brought a big group of friends and family with me; I think there were about 12 of us in total. My wife, my brother, mum and dad, two of my good friends Phil and Guy, one of my brother’s friends and one of my sponsors. In fact there were so many of us, maybe even 14, that we had to hire two houses. That was brilliant because the houses themselves were fantastic and it gave us the opportunity to get together and have barbeques every night. My wife picked up a few souvenirs and all the boys bought flags which they managed to get signed by Tiger (they were chuffed with that). But as far as I was concerned I didn’t want any souvenirs – hopefully I’ll have a few more trips back to Augusta in the future.
When Thursday arrived I desperately wanted to be professional and get zoned in, but when it is your first time there, it’s very tough. I think I was ready to compete, but I have to be honest, the first tee was the most nervous I’ve ever been on the golf course. Most weeks you stand up there and don’t think anything of it, but this is the Masters! The good news was that I hit a great drive down the middle, knocked a 9-iron on and made a solid four. From that opening round I also remember getting to the 12th tee and seeing 3,000 people standing around watching. I found myself looking at the crowd thinking, ‘I can’t actually believe I’m here’.
The greens at Augusta were of course incredibly tough. You can play it as much as you like before Thursday but you’ll never master the place. Even Westwood said to me, “I’ve been coming here for years and I’m still not used to it”. In practice I found myself trying Tiger’s famous chip from the back of 16. You can’t believe how good that shot must have been, it’s so hard to get the ball close from back there.
I was given another tough lesson in the difficulty of the greens on the 14th on Friday. I birdied 13 to get within one shot of the cut and hit a 6-iron into about 14ft. So I was looking at a good birdie chance. I hit the putt as softly as I possibly could and I was left with a 30-footer back for my par. How that ball finished where it did I have no idea. I missed the one back and all of a sudden I was struggling to make the cut. It was a shame because the way I played on day two, I deserved to make the weekend.
NOT SEEN ON TV
The hole that I just couldn’t believe was 13. The tee shot is quite easy if you hit a little draw and I was in the middle of the fairway on both days. I was going in with a 5-wood and I couldn’t believe how much the ball was above my feet. When I used to watch the Masters on TV I’d think, ‘why is everyone pushing it so far right or missing it left’. Now I know why.
Anyway, having missed the cut on Friday night we ended up going for a few beers. We had a relaxing day on the Saturday and then on the Sunday we went up to the course and supported Lee Westwood. He gave it a great bash and it was only some brilliance from Mickelson that cost him. In fact, it was Mickelson’s shot from the trees that produced the big roar I’d been told to expect. You get that sort of noise at The Open, but at Augusta it’s something special – it bounces around the trees. It sends a shiver down your spine.