AUGUSTA, April 6, 2010
From your first steps inside Augusta National Golf Club you know you're in one very special place. Idyllic. Magical. Pristine. Try as you might I doubt you'll find a stray scrap of paper or cup littering the grounds of this former nursery. As I walked past the leader board yesterday I heard a man, who appeared to be in his mid-seventies, tell a friend, "Well, I can cross this off my bucket list." Augusta is just that kind of place. A Must See before one passes on to the great first tee in the sky.
Monday was even more special because I was inside the room during Tiger's press conference. To me, he came off very real and relaxed, less controlling and contrived than I can remember. From where I was sitting, next to Tom Rinaldi of ESPN - who I thought did a fabulous job during his recent five-minute interview with Woods - Tiger seemed like a man who honestly wanted to change his life and rebuild his marriage.
I walked four holes on the front nine with Woods and his good buddy Freddie Couples during their practice round. My notes reflect the crowd's warm response, the bursts of applause, the shouts of "Welcome Back!" and "Go Tiger!" ringing out from spectators packing the fairways and greens six to 10 people deep.
I happened to be standing behind the sixth green when Tiger walked within three feet of me, and what struck me wasn't the smile but how he looked older around the eyes, and why not? Who wouldn't? But then he was gone, off to the seventh tee, where he lashed a perfect drive down the middle of the 450 yard par 4, strolling and smiling some more with Freddie, who always seems like the happiest guy on earth.
Frankly, it's hard not to be happy at Augusta. From the lady in the lunch line, to the marshals on the course, to Martha, who helps handle credentials, everyone I ran across seemed so pleasant and courteous and proud to be part of what Jim Nantz always calls "a tradition unlike any other."
My only other visit to the Masters came back in 2005. I was coming off a sideline reporting role at the Final Four - my all-time favorite assignment -- when I watched my good friend "Ace" Eaton, the reigning Mid-Amateur champion, play a practice round with Davis Love III and David Duvall. Monday was a very different day. Far more stressful with an Early Show story in the morning and a tough, deadline piece for the Evening News at night.
But in the end, I must say, it turned out to be a very satisfying day. Which I suspect is exactly what Tiger Woods was thinking when he finally headed off to sleep last night.