Editor’s note: This story was originally published in April 2019.
When you watched the Masters last Sunday, it was crystal clear the joy and relief Tiger Woods expressed.
After clinching his fifth green jacket — his 15th major and first in 11 years — Woods let out a primal yell, hugged his playing partners, then shouted and playfully pushed and hugged his faithful looper since 2011, Joe LaCava.
Woods shouted “We did it!”
LaCava appreciated the credit.
“I thought it was pretty special,” LaCava said. “I’m one of those guys that I’d like to think I try to stay in the background as much as possible because it’s all about the player, it’s all about Tiger.
TCN EXCLUSIVE: Caddie Joe LaCava details aftermath of Tiger’s Masters win
“Tiger doesn’t feel that way, he always considers us a team. He always makes me feel a part of the team, which is fantastic.”
LaCava got numerous texts from fellow caddies who were happy to hear those words come out of Woods’ mouth during one of the biggest moments this sport will likely ever see.
Joe Skovron, the looper for Rickie Fowler, was one of them.
“I thought that moment and what Tiger said about (LaCava) in the interview after were fantastic,” Skovron said.
Skovron Tweeted as well, calling that moment the “top of the mountain for a caddie.”
That right there is the top of the mountain for a caddie. If your guy feels that strongly about you being a part of his success it doesn’t get any better than that. https://t.co/JsjrGGviFg
— Joe Skovron (@skovy14) April 17, 2019
“Tiger’s the best (player), so when he says something like that, it really resonates,” LaCava said. “And he loves all the guys, the caddies, he’s in tune with that. Of all the guys, everyone looks up to Tiger.”
And players certainly do as well. When Francesco Molinari won Woods’ Quicken Loans National last year, he called Woods an idol and role model who he would watch on TV from Italy during his teen years.
Woods was up against seemingly another machine-like Molinari performance Sunday, especially through the front nine, and even through 11 holes after a wonderful up and down on 10 and an unflinching iron shot on the nerve-wracking 11th.
Woods hit an impressive iron shot on 11 as well, through the trees and sensationally stuck it to 20 feet — similar to the magic we saw most of last year’s PGA in the final round, but the four-time Masters champ was running out of holes, and LaCava broke down what they were thinking.
“We got through the front nine in 1-under par, which I didn’t think was all bad, especially after a couple of tough bogeys,” LaCava said. “Tiger’s won this tournament enough to know that you don’t want to press because that’s possibly when mistakes happen. He knows those last few holes are gettable for everyone, and I don’t think you want to start pressing — especially 10-12. That’s not the area you want to start being overly aggressive.”
And then the 12th hole happened.
But before we get there it’s critical to understand something related.
Woods and LaCava had the weather to thank for getting them into the final group, and that’s a crucial, rarely discussed aspect of Sunday’s final round.
It was a position they would not have been in during a typical twosomes, final-round finish. If not for the early morning Sunday threesomes off split tees schedule, it would have been Molinari and Tony Finau in the final pairing and Tiger in the penultimate group.
Woods and LaCava understood this key development and actually discussed it on Saturday evening once the groupings came out.
“It’s always nice to be in the last group because you know exactly what everybody else is doing,” LaCava said. “With threesomes it’s a little bit slower, so the groups are closer together, and with twosomes there’s more space between groups.”
That space could lead to the group in front making a crucial shot just out of view, and at Augusta — with its various roars — one can’t say for certain if they know what a player made on a decisive hole like 12 when the players behind only see them finish their putts.
Unless of course, they saw the players in front hit nearly every shot, as was the case with LaCava and Woods peering on Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter and Webb Simpson.
“With threesomes you’re definitely seeing what’s going on in front of you and it did help us for sure that we saw those guys dropping on 12, so we knew something fishy was going on up at that tee box,” LaCava said. “To have it right there in front of you, you know what you have to do.”
And that was to take account for the wind on 12.
“Watching them hit short in the water helped because we knew that even though we didn’t feel the wind on the tee, there was obviously something up there,” LaCava said.
The veteran looper remembers too that Couples used to tell him that he just couldn’t swing 30 feet left of the pin, his body and swing just go towards the pin.
Woods didn’t run into that problem Sunday.
“Tiger stuck to the game plan,” LaCava said.“When Francesco hit it in the water, I just went over to the tee real quickly, Tiger was in complete control of what he was doing, I didn’t want to get in the way at that point and I just let him know, ‘I still think that where the wind is, a little bit into and a little left to right,’ and he said, ‘gotcha,’ and as soon as he said ‘gotcha’ that’s all I needed to hear and he was on his way.”
One of the lasting images after the tee shots was the veteran Woods calmly walking over the historic Hogan Bridge, and the two players Woods’ junior, who both admittedly idolized him growing up in two different continents, taking their embarrassing walk to the drop zone area right of the bridge.
Woods and Molinari left that 12th green a few minutes later tied for the Masters lead, and as LaCava stood on that secluded tee box at 13 he broke out in a smile, knowing the part of the course ahead the next hour and a half and how it favored his player.
“That was my first thought, that it was huge that we’re tied and coming down the stretch on these finishing holes,” LaCava said. “You think to yourself mid-irons on 15, shortish irons on the rest of the holes, I like my guy’s chances for sure against any other guy in the world.”
Of course birdies at 13 and 15 were almost formalities for Woods.
Then came the par-3 16th.
“Tiger asks me ‘what is this (club)?’ and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? We know exactly what this is,’” LaCava said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘You trying to make me feel good?’ For Tiger it’s a full 8 iron, a rip 8 to get it back there to the pin from 180.”
The other choice would have been a cut 7 iron, but LaCava thought that would bring right of the green or long into play.
“It’s a shot that under the circumstances is not that easy to pull off. He’s got to draw it to get it there,” LaCava said. “And the last thing you want to do is overcook it into that bunker.”
When Woods’ shot nearly went in LaCava was feeling it.
“I was hoping for the loudest roar in my life which would have meant Tiger made an ace,” LaCava said. “And at that point — if that happens — then the tournament’s over, so I was completely jacked up.”
So when did LaCava feel the tournament was actually over?
Not until the 18th green when Woods had two putts to win.
And then the, “we did it,” moment happened.