I love the Masters. Even though I've never won it, it is still my favorite tournament. I don't think there is an event anywhere that has brought me more enjoyment or shaped my development more profoundly as a player and, more importantly, as a person.
But yes, Augusta National has been a cruel temptress to me. I've been close enough to taste victory there many times, and while I have suffered a number of heartbreaking defeats, I can honestly say I probably got more out of the tournament than anybody besides Jack Nicklaus.
The Masters is pure golf. The club and the tournament are run with discipline and control, two attributes I respect. When you walk onto the first tee, you feel an overwhelming love for the game. It is the most beautiful expanse of grass you will see in the world. And the sense of history is powerful: I have really enjoyed walking in the footsteps of so many great players.
I think part of my problem was that I got too excited every year. The other majors come so quickly that you never have time to worry about them. But I would start thinking about Augusta on January 1, so by the time April arrived I was already impatient.
People say I can't stop until I win a Green Jacket, but they don't understand that it wouldn't make one bit of difference in my life. I've had a lot of great things happen to me at Augusta and almost as many painful moments, but they're all just memories now, and I know everything that has transpired there has made me a better person. Every year has been special to me, but these in particular stand out.
1981 I'll never forget how Augusta National struck me when I first saw it. In only my second major championship on American soil, I opened with a sixty-nine and had a share of the lead.
The media immediately started asking questions about this unknown, aggressive blond-haired Aussie who used to swim and dive with sharks. In that Friday's Augusta Chronicle, in large type on the cover of the sports section, the headline read: "Great White Shark Leads Masters."
By Sunday I was just two shots behind Tom Watson with nine to play, but my tee shot on ten drifted left. I chipped out, made double bogey and just couldn't recover, finishing fourth behind Watson, Nicklaus and Johnny Miller. It was a magical start to my Masters ride, and twenty-one consecutive such rides were to follow.
1986 My greatest regret in golf came five years later on the seventy-second hole. That was the year Nicklaus mounted his fabulous final-round charge. He started four shots behind and closed with a sixty-five, holding the clubhouse lead for ages.
After birdies on fourteen, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen, I needed just a par on eighteen to force a playoff. I was in the middle of the fairway, 187 yards out, right between a four-iron and a five-iron. I chose a soft four.
Wrong choice. I should have stayed in attack mode and hit the hard five. Alas, I made bogey and handed victory to Nicklaus. If I could have one career mulligan, I'd take it there.
Painful as it was, I waited around for Jack to finish with his interviews. Even though he already had five Green Jackets, I knew how special that moment was to him. I wanted to offer my congratulations in person—and he did the same for me at Turnberry later that year when I won my first major. He was the first to congratulate me after my caddie and my wife.
1987 Bob Tway holing out from the bunker at the 1986 PGA Championship at Inverness, I could live with. Robert Gamez and David Frost holing out from the fairway to beat me at the 1990 Nestlé Invitational and the 1994 Greater Hartford Open, respectively—those hurt, but I got over them. The one that killed me inside was Larry Mize's pitch on the second playoff hole at the Masters in 1987. That was destiny saying, You aren't going to win this tournament. That one really rocked me.