I won't try to do a recap on yesterday's golf. Suffice to say that it was a great day to be at Augusta National. But here are some observations you may not get from the TV or online. Probably for good reason!
Half price tickets (kind of)
Tickets for the Masters are notoriously hard to get. For hard, read expensive. These days Stubhub has revolutionised how you can get tickets for the Masters if you haven't had badges passed down through the family for generations. They even have a collection point just outside the exclusion zone for touts.
The price of a ticket for the Saturday round gradually increased from around $1,500 to over $2,000 when it looked like Tiger might be teeing it up. At the beginning of this week it seemed that $1,800 was the likely price.
But then, I woke up yesterday morning to see they had dropped close to $1.000. Apparently that is quite common on the ticket exchanges, especially when middle aged fans are involved as they like to be nice and organised!
There is a gentleman called Jonny D who has been selling tickets from the same spot on Washington Road for 16 years, by coincidence right outside my window at the ironically named Augusta Best Inn. He had some very good anti-sell on Stubhub (you have to return the badges and there are long queues, they're killing the honest tout trying to ply his trade) which was compelling. And he undercut them a bit too.
Even writing this now, on the morning of one of the most stacked leaderboards for years, tickets are almost half the price for the last round now than they were a week ago.
Anyway, the purpose of all that was to give some pointers if you ever find yourself trying to get a ticket - my advice is that unless Tiger is involved hold the nerve!
An underage drinkers' dream!
I feel slightly insulted that I haven't been asked to show ID in a bar once on this trip. Maybe at the age of 43 I finally have to accept those days are gone. However, it turns out the Masters is the place to come if you are looking for a little underage drinking. The legal age to drink in the state of Georgia is 21 but there were exclamations of joy from those younger being served without the usual request to show some ID, maybe the whole property has its own law or something!
.....but there's a curfew
After about 4 o'clock people kept spotting my watch and asking if I had the time. After the third time this happened I asked whether there was something going on I needed to be aware of. Maybe a Nicklaus/Player wrestle-off or something. But no, alcohol sales ended at 5. There was a manic look in some patrons' eyes.
I noticed yesterday that the fans were more alcohol-fuelled than last time I was here. In the stands behind the 12th tee a fair number were pretty cut when the curfew came down and the golf did seem like a bit of a distraction from the drinking.
Viewing is so easy
Viewing at Augusta is a real pleasure. The stands that are strategically located over the course are very rarely full and people are constantly going up and down which makes it easy to get in. The stands at 11/12, 13 and 15 had seats available with only a short wait all afternoon from what I could see.
Mickelson and Spieth took a lot of the gallery with them. I picked up the Garcia/Hoffman match from the 11th and saw every shot, often from really close up, from just strolling along the side of the fairway. There was a Spanish/European contingent walking with them and the atmosphere was great.
They definitely don't oversell this event, no Ryder Cup here, and the experience is chalk and cheese with The Open. The amphitheatres they have carefully molded into the grounds definitely makes a difference.
Xenophobia is alive and well in Augusta
The TV broadcast won't show it but there is a definite US bias in the crowd, in a way you just don't get at The Open the other way. No-one was abusive about Mickelson when he won at Muirfield but there seems to be a real 'them and us' mentality by some of the more vocal fans here.
Maybe, it's because of the Ryder Cup problems they've had over recent years but it was really obvious out there. And some of the comments I heard towards Sergio were quite something. More often than not the insults were prefaced by 'The Spanish....' (insert insult as desired).
The alcohol didn't help as it was definitely worse at the end of the round but the shouts of 'get in the water' when he teed off on 16 were only aimed at him from what I saw. The European contingent clearly felt nothing but sympathy though when his playing partner Hoffman was the one to find the pond.
Isolation has its pros and cons
The no cellphone policy at Augusta is very strictly enforced - there's airport style security and you would lose your tickets for life if found with one. His is great in many ways. There's no texting your mates to say you just had a chat with Mark O'Meara's wife (what a lovely lady) or you are wearing your favourite golf top today so look out on the telly. No, you just take it all in with your eyes and take away the most amazing memories.
The only thing is, that means you don't really know the half of what is happening out there. There are scoreboards everywhere and they are updated really quickly. However, they only show the top 10 scores and the scores of those playing the hole you're watching.
So yesterday when we decided to wave goodbye to Westwood after an early bogey we didn't give him two thoughts for the rest of the afternoon. Had we know he was on the charge on the back 9 we'd have picked him up somewhere but we were in blissful ignorance as he didn't break the top 10.
It can't be beyond the wit of the organisers to arrange something which means fans have a better idea of what is happening without ruining the integrity of the event. Maybe give everyone a little radio as they come in with only one channel. Hell, I'd even put up with an afternoon of Monty chatting in my ear for that.
It's just Disneyland for golfers
The place really is amazing though and unless you see it it's hard to appreciate just how perfect it is. There are no rough edges anywhere. From the minute you turn off Washington Avenue you enter into an oasis. Even the parking lots have a Disney feel to them.
Everything about the place just looks and feels perfect. Ground which has been walked across all week is still green, the rest rooms wouldn't feel out of place in a top hotel, you never queue for more than a few minutes - even in the mecca that is the merchandise shop.
And yet for all that, it is the course that is the real star. Every hole asks questions, and sometimes the answers are terrifying. You can sometimes see it in the players' eyes.
I really hope that Sergio does it this afternoon but Spieth was quite something again yesterday. He was teeing off some time after 2 but at 10 o'clock he was on the putting green by the 1st tee. I watched him for 20 minutes and he barely issued a putt. He was focussed but also had a visible spring in his step, looking around all the time and bouncing on his feet.
He'll be a hard man to beat but it should be a fairly compelling afternoon's watching.