AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Sunday was, symbolically, the 18th day I've been at the Masters. It also marked the most compelling two hours of drama I've ever witnessed in person in the form of film, book, concert, sport or otherwise. Those of you at home must have had a better seat for the show, as I only saw about 40-50 shots and you saw all of them (not that I'm complaining), but I wouldn't trade my green soft back $30 chair in the second row on No. 16 for anything, except maybe for one on No. 18. On to the superlatives.
Loudest roar: When Tiger rolled in for eagle on No. 8. I was chasing Rickie Fowler down the back nine, and the way the crowd reacted from across the course you would have thought Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts appeared reincarnate out of the azaleas.
Biggest crowd pleaser: Ryan Palmer had to address his ball three times when sifting through the sand on No. 16. His first wiggle-waggle was interrupted by Tiger's missile strike at the No. 15 pin and the subsequent (albeit deserved) eruption from every patron within a chip shot of No. 15 and No. 16. You could see Palmer chuckle, back away from his ball, stare into the gallery, and inexplicably raise his hands up and down at us asking for more applause as if to say, "I get it, it's the Masters, Tiger is in it, keep on cheering, I'd be doing the same thing."
The second time his shot was cut short was the first time we had a look at Rory's train wreck. The scoreboard operator posted a red eight about 3 seconds before Palmer's backswing, and some strange mixture of shock and excitement at the new-look leaderboard reverberated throughout the crowd. Palmer backed away, grinning at the ridiculousness of it all and put his hands on his hips in jest. The crowd only encouraged his antics. A few minutes later he got a standing ovation for his playfulness despite making bogey.
Least amount of shame: I'd like to think of myself as a connoisseur of chair placement on Masters Sunday. Up at 5 a.m., in line at 6 a.m., chatting it up with patrons from all over the country until 8 a.m. when they let us in the gates. I know where people go and what the strategies are. Unfortunately, so do a lot of other people, including a bevy of college kids hired (yes, hired) to plop down the four-legged sitting devices for those folks too wealthy to care for standing in line with the rest of us. Before Sunday it had only been a well-crafted myth. This year though? I saw a man walk up to two guys ahead of us and start doling out $100 bills. Traditions and such...
Best dressed: I used to think David Toms and Adam Scott were neck and neck (or pleat and pleat, if you will) for this award, but we have a new leader in the pro shop: Steve Stricker. He was clothed in an almost-Carolina blue polo and navy slacks adorned with plaid in an extremely light hue of baby blue. Mr. Robert Tyre, the consummate professional, would have been proud. He also might not let the likes of Fowler, Poulter and Ishikawa on his course.
Shot of the weekend: We thought Adam Scott had just won the tournament. As he stroked his tee shot on No. 16 the crowd rose as one and a low rumble trembled throughout, like we were doing the wave with our voices. It climbed the hill, crested, and slipped right back down gunning for the pin. A massive "oooohhh oooohhhh nooooooooooo" filled the air as it scooted past. Then he hit a birdie that we all agreed had just won the tournament. Only it hadn't.
Classiest gesture: Everywhere you looked, standing ovations went up for young Rory on the back nine. The patrons seemed to be saying "sorry for your misfortunes but thank you for 63 holes of greatness, we'll see you back on top very soon."
It was a classy way to end the most gentlemanly of all the world's great sporting events. The third-round leader was not to be champion but sometimes at the Masters, winners are determined by patrons, and not green jackets.