It is a cliché of professional golf—especially of the televised kind—that there is nothing like the Tiger Roar. The Tiger Roar is the sound that spectators make when they witness Tiger Woods doing something amazing—usually, and more specifically, sinking a putt or a chip for a birdie, while he’s at or near the top of the leaderboard, in the later stages of a tournament. It just sounds different from whatever noise fans make when anyone else accomplishes something on the greens. It’s ardent, full-throated, a little nuts. It’s no golf clap. A defining corollary is that you can, and often do, hear it from far away, either while you are elsewhere on the golf course or while the TV broadcast is focussed on other players on another hole. It signals to everyone that Tiger is on the move, that danger lurks in the draw.
I’d never heard it in person before this weekend. I was at Augusta National Golf Club, in Georgia, for the first time, to work on a story about the Masters Tournament, the crown jewel of the major tournaments, and spent many hours out on the course trying to follow the action (if you will allow me to call it that) as it unfolded throughout the day. You always feel like you’re in the wrong place there, because, wherever you happen to be, way more is happening elsewhere. The Tiger Roar has the effect, on the one hand, of making you feel like you’re really missing out, and, on the other, of filling you in.
Having now heard it live, many times, this weekend, on Woods’s way to his fifth Masters victory and his first major in eleven years, I’d say it lives up to its billing. It has a galvanizing, animal effect. At the risk of sounding like a golf commentator on TV (I’m told Nick Faldo, on the CBS broadcast on Sunday, made some goofy remarks about the extinction of tigers), it gets you in the gut the way people tell me an actual lion’s roar does the first time you hear it, out in the bush. But what it really reminded me of, in its intensity, was the drunk and hungry bellow of a playoff crowd at the old Yankee Stadium. (I.B.M. this year used artificial intelligence to measure the “excitement score” of every shot, by grading “Crowd Roar” and “Player Gestures.” Woods got perfect scores even for tap-in putts.)
I first heard the roar on Sunday, the final day of the tournament, around 10 a.m. I’d posted up on the back of the sixth green. My strategy the last couple of days was to venture out a few holes ahead of Woods, get a good spot, and wait for his group to come through, and then repeat the tactic, jumping ahead a few holes more. I’d learned, as many before me have, that following him from shot to shot is a bit of a fool’s errand (though fools abound, to go by the peerlessly large crowds who do this) because, owing to the throngs, you rarely manage to secure a good spot to see either his swing or its result.
Woods had started the day two shots back from the lead; there was excitement, among the golf media and the patrons, as the Augusta National pooh-bahs insist that everyone call fans. Woods was in the final group. Owing to the threat of afternoon storms, the tournament bosses had moved the start time up several hours and sent the golfers out in threesomes, rather than the usual pairs. Woods was grouped with Tony Finau, a young American, and Francesco Molinari, a steady Italian, who held the lead.
On the sixth green, I watched Phil Mickelson, whose all-black outfit made him look a little like a rent-a-cop, sink a birdie putt. The patrons celebrated this. Then, from the north, came the telltale roar. It trumped Mickelson’s. Woods, we all knew immediately, had birdied the third hole, cutting the gap between him and Molinari in half. Soon thereafter, an echo of it—a cub roar—went up among the patrons at the sixth, as the scores were updated on the big board there. But by the time Woods got to the sixth, where I was, he’d bogeyed the next two holes and dropped further behind Molinari. We watched him two-putt for par. No roar here.
The next two roars hit me as I made my way to Amen Corner, the course’s storied crux, where one can watch the golfers navigate the difficulties and scenic delights of holes eleven, twelve, and thirteen. The first roar, I soon learned, was a birdie on the seventh hole; the next one, a birdie on the eighth. At the twelfth, Molinari put a ball in the water, Woods did not, and, suddenly, they were tied. Another roar, this one occurring around me. It was thrilling to be there.
I jumped ahead to eighteen, to secure a spot so that I might see the eventual victor, be it Woods or one of a half-dozen still-plausible others, do his winning there. More roars from far away. The fool was me. The scoreboard confirmed: Woods had made two more birdies, and Molinari had fallen apart. By the time Woods came up the eighteenth fairway, he had a two-stroke lead, and what seemed like many thousands of patrons had streamed up the course and massed around the green, spoiling for mayhem or at least noise. My strategy hadn’t worked—I could hardly see a thing because of all the people in front of me. So it was only from the roar, the loudest one of all, that I knew that Woods, some thirty yards away, had sunk his winning putt. I’m told he roared, too, but that I could not see. Or hear.