Joe LaCava and other caddies remember Tiger’s most thrilling shot from Masters win
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 30, 2019, Tiger’s 44th birthday.
One of the biggest moments from the 2019 Masters was Tiger Woods’s final-round tee shot on the par-3 16th that nearly went in, leading to a crucial tap-in birdie.
The crowd went wild watching Woods stretch his outright lead from one to two shots with a memorable near-ace.
For the caddies close to the scene, the sights and sounds were unforgettable.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 14, 2019
“It was amazing,” Woods’s caddie, Joe LaCava, said, “and then you see (the crowd) all stand up as they did for us.”
The patrons at 16 rose to their feet from the grandstands left, from the hill left of the pond where most wait all day in their chairs, behind the green, to the right, and in the grandstands from 15.
“They know there was action there and obviously they also know that Tiger’s hit a great shot,” LaCava said.
“It’s just great to see the crowd jump up like that and get so fired up. When you see the crowd stand up in those circumstances, final group at the Masters, it’s amazing.”
When most of us watch the Sunday tee shots on 16 on the CBS broadcast, 37 million watched it live, you can tell within a few feet of the hole if the ball is still funneling on line or off. In person, you don’t get a picture perfect angle from an elevated camera zoomed in to the ball’s every trickle. And in that moment you don’t really know if the ball still has a chance to go in as it nears the hole.
“From our angle at the tee box we can’t see the bottom of the cup, but we saw everyone stand up behind the green and start to scream louder as the ball rolled back to the hole. And from our angle it looked like it was going in,” Tony Finau’s caddie, Greg Bodine, said.
He had the same view as Woods and LaCava in the final group.
“I just remember being almost surprised when it didn’t go in,” Bodine said.
LaCava said he was hoping to hear the, “loudest roar of my life which meant Tiger made an ace,” and that he was “jacked up” in that moment.
Can you blame him?
He’d looped for Woods since 2011, but they were absent from three of the past five Masters at that point due to Woods’s injuries. LaCava’s instinct told him this was a moment to appreciate.
“You have to enjoy it for a minute because you know you’re going up there and you have a tap-in,” he said. “You can’t let your guard down, but you can definitely take a breath and enjoy it.”
The other caddies nearby distinctly heard or saw the crowd’s reaction to the shot.
“We were on 17 green and we heard one of the loudest roars I’ve ever heard in my life,” Xander Schauffele’s caddie, Austin Kaiser, said. “We knew it had to be Tiger, unless it was a hole-in-one from Tony or Francesco. It was so loud that we knew it was Tiger and everyone was going wild.”
Twenty-five years from now, those lucky enough to walk some Masters final rounds will likely all be swapping legendary stories of ‘Tiger roars’ from past Masters. You know the, “where were you when Tiger did this?” kind of thing. The Sunday tee shot on 16 figures to rank high among them.
“You could tell it was a Tiger roar for sure,” John Wood (Matt Kuchar), who was also on 17 green, said. “It was just a different tenor to the cheer. It (went) a little longer, a little louder, a little deeper.”
For Paul Tesori in the group ahead of Woods with Webb Simpson standing just a handful of yards from 16 green at 17 tee, the crowd noise was unmistakeable.
“It was loud, massive,” Tesori said. “The sound grew yard by yard (as the ball was) in the air, and (grew) exponentially once it landed.”
Brandel Chamblee recently shared his thoughts with The Caddie Network on a conference call the week the 2020 Masters was originally scheduled to take place and said No. 16 was a moment where Tiger could take a chance.
“That (shot) is the universality, the comprehensive nature of Tiger Woods,” Chamblee said. “That is Augusta National. That is Tiger Woods. And we got to see it all there. That’s why we all lean in to watch the Masters, and that’s why we can’t take our eyes off of Tiger Woods.”
Golf Channel Analyst and long-time friend and former Stanford teammate of Woods, Notah Begay, finished his pre-game analysis that morning of the Masters and debated whether to wait and see how Tiger’s final round turned out or whether he should drive back to Atlanta to get home to his family as he always does on Masters Sundays.
“So, I didn’t want to jinx it, so I got in my car, did everything that I normally did, and I was driving to Atlanta and I was listening to it on the radio,” Begay said. “What that one shot told to me is that No. 1, he believes he can win this thing. No. 2, is that he’s got his nerves under control, which at that point after he hit the shot and made the putt and went to 17, I’m like, ‘he’s going to win’.”
LaCava called it a “rip” 8-iron draw from 180 yards. Not bad for a then 43-year-old.
“It was actually close to a hook 8-iron. It felt like it moved 10-15 yards right to left before it got on the ground,” Bodine said.
Brooks Koepka had just held off a charging Woods on the back nine in the previous major eight months prior and stood a couple hundred yards away from Woods on the 17th tee box.
With his ball on the tee.
But even the winner of two of the past three majors couldn’t help but take a glance to his right toward the green as Woods’s ball rolled closer.
“It looked like it was going to go in from our angle,” Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, said.
Meanwhile, patrons aligning the 17th tee box and fairway to Elliott and Koepka’s left responded excitedly to Woods’s shot as it continued to get better by the second.
“We were looking over and then everybody up the 17th on the left side were on their tiptoes and more or less spilling out onto the tee (looking toward 16),” Elliott said. “They were so loud. And they weren’t going to calm down when the ball stopped 2 feet from the hole.”
And this group on 17 tee had intentionally waited for Tiger to hit knowing it might be a distraction. Yet the cheers continued.
“Then I said to Brooks, ‘you may as well go and hit it because they’re just going to be loud for the next 15 minutes,’ from all the way when Tiger was walking up to the green, marking his ball, tapping it in,” Elliott said.
“So Brooks decided to just go ahead and hit it while everybody was cheering, kind of like the Bubba Watson thing at Medinah (2012 Ryder Cup). There was just so much noise that it didn’t really matter. He hit a great drive and he gave himself a good chance on the last two holes, and that’s all he could do.”
Koepka ended up one stroke shy of Woods, as did Schauffele and Dustin Johnson. Finau and Simpson finished another shot back with Molinari and Jason Day.
“It was the most exciting shot of the day for sure,” Bodine said.
Of course there were aces from Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas earlier, but considering what this shot meant to the eventual winner’s round — and who the eventual winner would be — it’s hard to ignore the shot’s importance.
Woods only had just over a tap in left for birdie, but he surprised his looper by asking for a read.
“It caught me off guard, to be honest with you,” LaCava said. “Because at that point, I’m trying to figure out what the wind’s doing on the next hole. Even though it wasn’t blowing that hard, I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what it was because that’s what he’s going to ask me as soon as he steps on the next tee.”
The journeyman looper was reading his yardage book and just re-affirming where that pin was because it was a “newish” pin for 17.
“I normally try to get out there on course really early, but it was too dark that Sunday morning (with the early start) and they didn’t have that many of the holes cut so I didn’t get a chance to see this pin because of the double tee start.
“So I’m doing my work for 17 and then all of a sudden — a lot of times he’ll say take a look, which is great, or that he needs a towel or whatever — then he said something, I couldn’t really hear him because I was a ways from him. He said, ‘take a look’ and I said, ‘take a look? It’s a one-and-a-half-footer straight up the hill here, let’s just knock this thing in and get out of here.’
“Basically, I thought ‘let’s not overanalyze this thing at this point, let’s just pound it in.’ I went over there and took a quick look, I thought it was straight, he said ‘left-center.’ I said ‘go with it’ and he pounded it right in the middle,” LaCava explained.
And two holes later, Woods’s win would finish one of the most remarkable career moments in golf history, adding a 15th major victory an astounding 11 years after claiming his 14th.