Dreams, disappointments in Masters Grill Room

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Grill Room of the Augusta National clubhouse offers views of the big tree and the first fairway in the distance. There’s a full bar with an oil painting of the 13th green behind it. One wall is dominated by a display case featuring 31 “winner’s clubs,” anything from Tiger Woods’ 1997 driver to Gary Player’s 1961 2-iron.

It’s every bit as polished and proper as you’d expect; white tuxedo wait staff and rich, wood-paneled walls.

Here, late on one of the wildest Sundays in the Masters’ 75-year history, the Grill Room became an oasis for mentally exhausted, playoff-dreaming, information-starved golfers and their families.

Phil Mickelson (right) presents Charl Schwartzel the winner's green jacketafter his two-stroke victory at the Masters.
(David Cannon/Getty Images)

It was ground zero of fluctuating fortunes and, eventually, the graveyard of hope for anyone waiting for a second chance tie.

Outside was searing heat, humidity and pressure – a combination that at one point or another left a dozen golfers and their personal cheering sections believing they might somehow sneak out of here with a green jacket.

Inside were 11 tables, chilled air and two precious Sony televisions in the corner where CBS offered those done playing immediate visuals on the roller coaster of their chances.

From Tiger’s epic front-nine run (a blistering 31) to Rory McIlroy’s epic back-nine collapse (a nightmarish 43), the entire day seemed out of control, overwrought with emotion and confusing in its possibilities.

There were a few minutes when a five-man playoff didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. In the end, that was shut down when a lanky South African named Charl Schwartzel decided to seize the tournament, birding the final four holes to finish 14 under – two better than the pack.

Until the end though, the Grill Room served as the bus station of dreams for players and their personal cheering sections.

Each finish at 8, 9 or 10 under was enough for some sliver of a shot. So in came another golfer, caddie, wife, mother, brother or agent seeking refuge from the sweatbox and mania outside.

Normally at a golf tournament you just change and leave. Sunday you had to wait and wonder. This is where many did it.

The conclusion of the Masters took over an hour and a half, at one point, a score of 9 under carried a small measure of possibility. Then Tiger finished at 10 and that looked like it might just be enough to make a playoff. Then it was 11. Then 12. Then it was over for everyone in here.

In the middle, though, no one knew for sure what would happen or what to do.

So they rehydrated with Arnold Palmers perfectly born of blended-by-the-order lemonade. Or they chugged waters. Or friends slugged Miller Lites or calmed nerves with a Dalwhinnie 15 single malt whiskey. Others just stared at the TV and quietly hoped for a blown putt that wouldn’t come.

There was Kultida Woods, Tiger’s mother, surrounded by friends at a corner table, staring at the TV. There was Bo Van Pelt’s caddie, seated on a bench just outside, unsure exactly what to do. There was Edoardo Molinari and his wife kicked back on a couch in an adjoining room, watching the action on an oversized screen.

This was a place where you’d overhear something like, “I practiced with him over the weekend. I knew he was putting good.”

There was K.J. Choi’s wife, Hyunjung, and one of their daughters leaning against a wall dealing with a roller-coaster finish that faded in the heat. Right about then a U.S. Senator strolled by.

Tiger Woods reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 16th.
(Chris O'Meara/AP)

There was Geoff Ogilvy, fresh off a five-birdie streak on the back nine that got him to 10 under. He walked in looking spent and seeking his wife.

“Have you seen Juli?” he asked to a friend.

Once he found her, they debated at what point he could have a drink. Eventually, when it was apparent he was done; he simply untied his shoes and conceded the day.

Out of respect, people could neither cheer too loud nor express even the slightest hope for an ugly drive or water ball. This is a gentlemen’s game and this is Augusta National where decorum rules, even amid the madness. Plus you didn’t know who was at the next table.

It was the strangest of scenes, people politely applauding the beautiful shot that eliminated them.

Eventually the flickering visions on the televisions sucked the life out of the place. Every last person who came in seeking a miracle left disappointed. This was a winnowing by reality – Schwartzel and his birdie tear; Adam Scott and his tee shot on 16; the vision of Jason Day’s wife, Ellie, cheering on his late charge.

They could appreciate her. They could’ve been her. They pretended to be happy.

Tiger Woods said he was going to eat in the champion’s locker room upstairs, maybe reenergizing for a possible playoff. By the time Schwartzel got to 12 under on 16 though, his caddie, Steve Williams, had loaded his clubs into the car outside.

Kultida Woods didn’t concede until, one hole later, Schwartzel got to 13 under, officially closing out Tiger’s chance at a fifth green jacket. She and her table got up quickly and left.

The others hung around longer, some just to watch Schwartzel clinch it.

Eventually Rory McIlroy ended his horror show back nine, that saw him go from first to 15th. He approached the club house with security at his side. Upstairs, on the veranda, people stood and cheered and tried to offer comfort.

He eventually walked alongside those big Grill Room windows and two welcoming doors, yet the person in all of Georgia who likely needed a drink the most didn’t stop in.

The Grill Room was almost empty by then anyway; hope had cleared out for good.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Apr 10, 2011