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The Back 9 at Augusta

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This weekend, as America collectively crowds around their high definition television sets anticipating that rare moment in sports that most often never leaves the imagination to become a reality, I’ll be trolling the back 9 at Augusta watching my 5th Sunday afternoon at the Masters unfold.

For whatever reason, I seem to have hit the gene-pool jackpot 26 years ago, born into one of the 30,000 or so families in the U.S. with annual access to Masters tickets. Every January I tell myself I’m going to skip this year, save some money, just watch it on TV. Every year I find myself blazing down I-20 with friends or family straight towards the domestic epicenter of golf’s old-school world.

There’s nothing like it, really. I’ve been to a Final Four, a College World Series, the MLB playoffs, the NBA playoffs, Wimbledon, a Kentucky Derby, a Champions League final viewing in Milan, and a PGA Championship and the collective gusto of all those events combined is but a drop in Augusta National’s bucket.

The defining moment for me occurred last year, the first time Mrs. Pistols attended, about 50 paces into our Thursday stroll of the grounds when she said “I feel like we’ve stepped back in time.”

I hadn’t been able to put my finger on its pulse before she whispered that sentence as we descended upon the first fairway but her assessment was all-encompassing, if not completely wrong. There seems to be this magical dust that falls from the light-tower tall pines gently brushing every patron with a hearkening to yesteryear. We hadn’t stepped back in time at Augusta because it simply doesn’t exist.

On Sunday we’ll set up camp on #16 as we wait for those four or five predestined souls in spikes to come trembling down the back nine. As so many players have noted, there’s the back nine on Thursday and Friday and Saturday, and then there’s the back nine on Sunday and it’s unlike any of the other days in every way.

Wicked-tight pins, fast-as-your-garage-floor greens, and the grandness of all 30,000 people jammed into Amen Corner makes for some strange epically-choreographed almost-mythological tragedy displayed on CBS for all to see.

It’s different in person though. You can taste the tension as everyone rises in unison to watch red and black numbers changed by the men behind the wooden scoreboards. Patrons nervously scan their pairings sheet and quietly talk about who’s folding and who’s surging. You can hear birdies on Sunday afternoon at Augusta and beyond that you can feel eagles.

And maybe by the time you read this the roars will have quietly subsided back into the azaleas, only to reappear in 51 more weeks. And maybe the majority of them were for Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott as they traded nasty pin-seeking blows for four straight hours on national television. And maybe one of them will slip into something green to end the best sports day of the year.

But no matter, as the sporting world stands still for half a day and everyone waits to see who will be the first major winner of 2011, I’ll be fixated on the same nine holes you are. And I, like you, will be watching to see who was built to handled the back nine at Augusta National.

For Sunday, my friends, is unlike all the rest.

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