Ah well, here we are – the first Masters week in my lifetime without the Masters!  Mind you, we now have the promise of a November fixture, which will be interesting – fingers crossed, we’ll have a peep into this magical world at a completely different time of year.  Meanwhile, there are wall to wall re-runs of past tournaments for us to watch on TV, if so inclined.  I have recorded a few but not sat down to watch any yet – that’ll be for a rainy day sometime soon.  It’s inevitable, then, that this week of all weeks I have found myself thinking back to my previous Masters visits.  It all started 29 years ago…….

1991:  The wee Welsh wizard, Ian Woosnam, surprised the home galleries by roaring through to a one-stroke victory over Jose Maria Olazabal – a phenomenal one-two for the Europeans.  Thanks to an influential sister I had a spot on the back porch of the Butler cabin as Woosie arrived to take part in the TV presentation for the coveted green jacket.  We were near-ish neighbours at the time and he spoke to me on the way in to the presentation.  He was in a complete daze and hardly knew where he was.  On the other hand, I’ve never forgotten it!

Woosie and Dai, my late brother-in-law, testing the Welsh lamb-in-hay planned for the Masters Champions’ dinner in 1992.  It never made it – agriculture restrictions or something.

1997:  Big sis comes through with the tickets again and it’s off to have a look at this wunderkind Tiger Woods.  It was around this time that Sandy Lyle was reputedly asked if he knew Tiger Woods, to which he replied, “No, I’ve never played there.”  I decided to follow Tiger on the Thursday and walked the first nine with him.  He was out in 40.  “What’s all the fuss about?” I wondered as I sloped off to watch somebody else.  Three days later we all had the answer to that particular question and I was in the gallery at the 18th green witnessing half a dozen or so new records being set. Tiger won by twelve and the world’s obsession with him took hold right there and then.

2007:  I had started doing some broadcasting in the States the previous year and 2007 was my first opportunity to go to the Masters as an accredited member of the media, working for radio.  I was beyond excited but that wasn’t to last.  No inside-the-ropes access meant I had a static broadcast position for the week at the 17th green.  Limited visibility of the fairway meant I spent all day every day only calling putts on the slippery surface, rarely seeing one holed.  It was turgid stuff.  Added to that, the temperatures were not much above freezing and I remember wearing eight layers, a woolly hat and big mitts and still being frozen.  For me, an eminently forgettable week, but not for Zach Johnson who won by two.

2012:  Six of us rented a house together for the week that saw Blubba, sorry Bubba, Watson win the first of two titles in the space of three years.  He beat Louis Oosthuizen in a play-off with that remarkable, left-to-right swinging bullet of a wedge from the trees on the right of the tenth hole.  A plaque now marks the spot.  Earlier in the week huge storms had decimated a number of trees around the course, but through-the-night work meant that, come morning, it was virtually impossible to see where any damage had been.  Also, that year was memorable for the loudest noise I’ve ever heard at Augusta which occurred when Louis Oosthuizen holed for an albatross 2 at the second on the Sunday.  Spine-tingling.

Augusta National, beautiful and brutal.

2013:  Living the dream and back again to Augusta with three pals and hoping to witness a Rory win.  The next best thing, though, was to see Adam Scott become the first Aussie to win the Masters, defeating Angel Cabrera in near darkness at the second tie hole.  There’s something special about being present when history is made and it would be hard to think of a more popular winner.  The following morning, driving to Atlanta airport, we stopped at our normal Cracker Barrel for breakfast….and ran in to Steve Williams, the winning caddy.  He confirmed he had persuaded Adam to give that final putt more borrow than it looked – all that experience and all those years of being on Tiger’s bag coming to the fore.  Great stuff and great to get an inside view from one of the men who was central to the action.

At this point in my personal Masters journey enter Mike Eaby, VP, Sports Administration and Co-ordinating Producer of Westwood One Sports.  For whatever reason Mike was keen for me to join his crew for the Masters in 2016 – and I turned him down!  Well, I still hadn’t forgotten working there in 2007 and had decided that it was much more fun being there at Augusta as a bona fide golf nut with no responsibilities whatsoever except to seek out the best golf action.  When I casually mentioned to my family that I’d turned Mike down they were, in turn, incredulous, then dumbfounded and then they told me in no uncertain terms that I was an eejit.  So, when Mike came calling again I did a 180 and accepted.  The rest, as they say, is history and I’ve now covered the last four Masters with one of the most skilful and entertaining crews it’s been my pleasure to work with.

Some would say a motley crew.  It is, in fact, the incomparable Westwood One Sports crew!

2016:  This was Danny Willett’s year with a flawless, bogey-free 67 on Sunday but most will remember Jordan Spieth losing a five-shot lead on the back nine.  I was alongside my colleague Kevin Kugler at Amen Corner when Spieth’s calamitous quadruple bogey began to unfold before our eyes on the par 3 12th hole.  It never grows old being right at the heart of dramatic sporting action with a microphone in hand.

2017:  Another grand year at leafy Augusta for the Europeans with Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia jointly leading going into the final round.  Matching each other blow for blow and birdie for birdie, they delivered a brace of 69s and a play-off.  Finally, amid tearful, emotional scenes, it was time for Sergio to claim a major at the 74th time of asking.  Ole, ole, ole.

Sergio – and the relaxed smile of a man who has a green jacket in his wardrobe.

2018:  This was an odd year in that there were very subdued celebrations on the grounds for the winner, American Patrick Reed.  The fans were rooting for just about anyone else.  Rory McIlroy disappointed with a final round 74; Jordan Spieth electrified proceedings making up a nine-shot deficit to tie the lead with two holes left but a closing 64 left him just shy; Rickie Fowler’s four rounds of par or better placed him second, one shot behind.

Rory patiently searching for the key to unlock the door into the Career Grand Slam Club.

2019:  I was one of those who said Tiger would never win another major.  I’ve seen how difficult it is to do and I know what it’s like trying to cope post one back surgery never mind four – not to mention a plethora of knee procedures and assorted addictions.  But here we were again, a familiar figure, Tiger,  in not quite such a familiar setting.  For starters, gloomy weather predictions of incoming storms prompted the powers-that-be at Augusta National Golf Club to bring the tee times forward and to send the players out early in threes.  And Tiger wasn’t leading.  So, it was a different look and a different feel to Woods’ previous Masters victories as the final round unfolded.  Three of his rivals obliged by finding the water on that back nine but Tiger did what he does best and closed the deal.  The ensuing scenes were unforgettable.  I was privileged to have witnessed his victory in 1997, and several of his other major wins but this was very, very special indeed.  Perhaps we will witness something special in November – it will certainly be different experiencing Augusta in late autumn.

Five times Woods has triumphed at Augusta. Is there more still to come? [Courtesy of @TheMasters]

As I said earlier, fingers crossed it happens – we all need something to look forward to and an opportunity to build more lovely memories.