Augusta, Georgia – Joaquin Neiman has not heard of his caddy.
He did another Masters tournament. He orientated himself in the crowd. Now that the 23-year-old Chilean was standing at the first match of the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday, Gary Matthews, who was carrying Neiman’s bag, could be anywhere.
Such a life plays alongside Tiger Woods.
Just a few weeks ago, Woods, whose doctors weighed a leg amputation after a car crash last year, seemed to have probably missed the Masters. But his decision to play in the tournament, his first professional competition since November 2020, instantly changed the way spectators watched the action – and any player who accompanied the five-time Masters winner on August National.
Woods ’presence in a pair or group has long defined the playing environment around his part of almost any tournament, with his fans and quite often just curious, offering a flurry of applause, commentary, cameras, fuss and close attention. The searchlight seems to barely deviate from it, if it deviates.
And so the chaos, or what is considered chaos on the golf course, could make Fred Parov – the Masters champion, once the world’s top golfer and baby boomer hero – more like a plan than a lead man. It could make Stuart Zinc, the British Open champion and one of the best golfers of his era, just an exciting bonus, or Francesco Malinari, also a British Open winner, something smaller than the pair’s name.
“It’s completely different when you play with Tiger anywhere and Augusta National is no different,” said Zinc, who has often seen Woods up close at the Masters.
Woods, who received the first green jackets of the Masters 25 years ago, has long run one of Augusta’s largest galleries, and some other champions believe the “roar of the tiger” through the pines just sounds different than greeting other players. And with Phil Mickelson, one of Woods ’rivals for attention and love, who is missing from this year’s Masters, Woods is even more the player with the most fans around Augusta this week.
The madness of this particularly intense week began long before Neiman, Woods and Louis Ostheisen found themselves on Thursday, looking at 445-yard № 1. The pair, who played in their 37th Masters this week, joined Woods at a couple of rounds of training and were left on Monday, the first day the course was open to the public.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he wondered. The couple said he had found a way to get to the tee where Woods ’supporters“ were only four deep ”.
He added: “They wanted to see the big guy and they saw him and they saw good golf. He gets it here all the time. ”
But frequency does not necessarily ease the scenario for others pursuing their own ambitions.
“The most important thing is only the energy in the crowd, the intensity of the reaction and the struggle for the position,” said Zinc, whose best result in “August” was the third in 2008. “There’s a lot of movement.”
Zinc said Woods regularly tried to fight honestly, allowing others to finish the game on the hole before him, keeping the crowd in place a little longer.
“When you play with him, it’s busy, noisy,” said Malinari, who won the 2018 British Open at Carnusti paired with Woods, and the following year played with Woods on Sunday at Augusta. “I don’t think it makes much difference here or anywhere else.”
Woods, no matter how powerful, has only so much control.
On Thursday, spectators began gathering around the first Thai boxing long before Woods left the club to start his tournament. A drone flew overhead. At least one man shouted, “Let’s go Tiger!” at least twice, though it was hard to tell in the crowd, which seemed to be in about 25 places so people could see Woods (or perhaps just the top of his hat) when he made his first shot.
Neiman and Osthaisen received polite, restrained receptions from the crowd, which began to disperse as soon as Woods, who struck first, finished swinging his driver, the better to get a head start on the fairway or on the second green to see the forest again.
In the later holes the hustle and bustle is enough verse that Neiman said he could eventually hear Matthews if he achieves a 69 three-pointer below par. He said he even came to have fun in a huge crowd.
“They always told me to try to finish before Tiger so people wouldn’t move,” Neiman said. “But they were very respectful, so it was a nice round.”
Daniel Berger suggested that a worse fate than being paired with Woods was just ahead of him.
“If you’re one or two ahead of him, it’s always a struggle with people trying to run up to him,” said Berger, who debuted at the Masters in 2016.
Padreig Harrington, another British Open winner who played with Woods, had a similar assessment.
“It’s very difficult when you are a group in front of him,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult because the crowd is watching him and going on to see him. If you play with it to a depth of 20, you don’t hear anything because there’s so much going on. “
But Harrington, who won two open championships and a PGA championship, had no claim to living with Woods as a gaming partner.
“In fact, he’s one of the easiest guys to play with over the years,” he said. “It is very easy to play with him. He plays golf. He says “good shot” only when you hit well. No climbing, no lies.
Training is certainly less strenuous, and Parry, who has long been close with Woods and is now at the twilight of his career, has shown that he sometimes plays the court clown. So came this week when Woods played with the Couples who won in August in 1992, and Justin Thomas, who was born the following year and was 3 years old when Woods first won the Masters.
“I like to tell them stories, but usually on T-shirts it’s very quiet and I let them do their thing, and as soon as we get out of the fairway, there will be a story about this guy, or that guy, or me, or Tiger,” Paris, who said Woods and Thomas were forcing him to beat last, recalled this week. “Then we laugh until we get to the ball.”
The crowd is always thick, and always watching, and always bouncing. But Couples said playing with Woods and Thomas is a benefit, apart from theatricality and distractions.
“It’s nice because they only want to play nine holes,” said Paris, 62. “I’m fine with nine holes.”