During the third round of the 2019 Masters Tournament held in Augusta, GA at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, April 14, 2019. (J.D. Cuban)
Tiger Woods is nowhere to be seen, it’s starting to rain, Tony Finau’s family waits for him, Justin Thomas comes out of the clubhouse and gets into his car. In the parking lot, the rear hatch of one of the Mercedes courtesy cars is up. It’s Tiger’s car, and Joe LaCava is sitting in the trunk. In the aftermath of Woods’ historic win at Augusta National, his caddie paused to reflect on a wild final round and the road that brought both here.
1. Francesco Molinari’s water ball on 12 was a bit of a shock
LaCava said that Tiger was all business after Molinari, inexplicably, put his tee ball in Rae’s Creek. For LaCava, it wasn’t something he saw coming. Molinari, who’s so steady it’s borderline infuriating, wasn’t a player you’d peg as a candidate to drop a ball in the water on the back nine of a major.
“[Molinari]’s one of those guys, he’s not going to go away,” said Lacava. “I was a little surprised he hit it in there. I was thinking this is a perfect 8 iron for him, it’s probably a smash 9 iron for us. I actually thought he was going to hit not to two feet, but 15 feet left. I was very surprised. Things definitely changed.”
What didn’t change was Woods’ plan. LaCava thought there was a chance Tiger would switch 9 out for 8-iron, but he stuck with his plan, put his approach on the left side of the green, and made par for a two-shot swing that changed the entire tournament.
2. He’s not ready to talk about Jack Nicklaus’ record
The big Woods conversation that’s been on ice for the past decade is if he’ll beat Nicklaus’ record of 18-majors. What looked like an almost certainty became a certainly not. But now . . . maybe?
“It’s nice to get to 15, 18 isn’t a thought,” said LaCava. “Now 15’s here, let’s get to 16. Is it [the record] in play? Sure. The guy’s 43-years-old, a guy like him could win when they’re 50. Sixteen is the next mission.”
Still, this win feels good, even in the context of all of Tiger’s great wins. “It’s been a long time, lot of question marks, lot of injuries,” said LaCava. “I think 15 is, who knows, looking back 10 years from now, 15 may be the hardest one.”
3. Coming down the stretch, Brooks Koepka was the biggest concern.
The leader board was alarmingly stacked during the back nine on Sunday. Dustin Johnson, Molinari, Xander Schauffele, Jason Day, and others all had legitimate chances to win the Masters. But there was one name that was sticking out to LaCava: Brooks Kopeka.
“You’re watching Brooks because he’s probably going to be the guy who’s going to do something if anyone’s going to do something,” said Lacava. “Brooks had made 5 at 12, but he was hitting everything to 10 feet, so I was thinking, this guy could come in at 14 (under).”
4. He, jokingly, denied Tiger a read on that 18-inch putt for birdie on 16.
That 8-iron Tiger hit into the green on the par-3 16th was absolutely pure. It hit the green and started rolling back towards the hole. Everyone, including Tiger, looked like they thought it was going in. But it missed the cup, leaving Tiger about 18-inches for birdie.
“He said ‘Take a look.’ I said, ‘Take a look? It’s a foot and a half,’” said LaCava, laughing. “He said, ‘Left centre,’ I said ‘Go for it.’”
The putt, obviously, went in.
5. Tiger knew this would happen.
“He’s a very confident person so he always thought he could do it,” said Lacava.
6. Tiger’s scheduling so far this season was helpful Sunday.
Much to the dismay of many Woods fans, he didn’t play the Valspar or Bay Hill this year. Ultimately, it looks like taking some extra rest may have been a good idea for Tiger. “I’m not saying he skipped those because of this, but he’s fresh,” explained LaCava. The caddie said that the 2018 season was about playing tournament golf again, trying to get a win. “This year, let’s play a little less, I’ve won that tournament, I know I can do that, let’s win a major.”
7. There are some similarities between this and the last time LaCava was on a winning bag at Augusta National.
For over 20 years, LaCava caddied for Fred Couples. In 1992, Couples won the Masters with LaCava caddying for him. Both Couples and Woods both won with 13 under.
“It’s the same score,” said LaCava. “Raymond was at 11 in the house, so it was a little easier. Fred made a par, so he had a two-stroke lead, just like Tiger did. You still have to finish it off. It was a little tougher with Fred, knowing that pin was in the back. Plus he was in a bunker. I knew Fred’s ball was a little to the right, it’s not that easy of a shot.”
LaCava wasn’t willing to compare the two wins beyond the facts.
8. The advice he gave Tiger on the first tee played out throughout the round.
“On the first tee I told him, ‘Intense but loose,’” said LaCava. “Don’t carry the weight of the world.” It’s a delicate balance, to make sure you’re fired up enough to hit the big shots, but you don’t want to be so overwhelmed by the moment that you tighten up and lose your ability to swing the golf club as you know how to.
“I think he did that,” said LaCava. “I thought he was pretty loose. But I didn’t want him to lose the intensity. At the same time, this isn’t the end all. Not ‘Let’s just have fun no matter what happens’—don’t get me wrong. But be loose.”
9. One of the most important moments was on 9.
Generally, most people wouldn’t point to Tiger two-putting the ninth green as one of the biggest moments of the day. But for LaCava, that two-putt was huge. “He’s the best at the game, but people don’t realize how hard that was,” explained LaCava. “That was big. Giving us momentum, shooting under par on the front nine.
10. There’s a part of Joe that always knew this was going to happen.
“I don’t know if I dreamt about it, but I pictured it. I wouldn’t have stuck around if I didn’t think he was capable of pulling something like this off. He is Tiger Woods after all, right?”