AUGUSTA, Ga. -- They came in from the late afternoon heat. Members and guests, mothers and agents, wives and friends, filling Grill Room tables, standing by the bar or collapsing in the cushy parlor next door. Sweet air conditioning blew hard from the vents in the ceiling. Laughter rolled off the blond wood walls. Blenders buzzed. The crowd got louder the more drinks that crossed that old-school bar, and the more wild the golf on the televisions became. Some didn't care who won, rooting for the shootout. Others cared a great deal.
Nobody could do anything but watch. The final hour of a chaotic Masters had arrived.
Outside, the galleries packed together, exhausted, shirts soaked through, skin deep pink. For an entire day, they rose and fell with the golfers they followed, only to arrive at the end having seen just a sun-burned prelude. Inside, the Grill Room crowd grew. The mood was tense. Everyone stared at the televisions on the far wall.
Tiger Woods' mom sat at a corner table, slowly sipping a drink. Her son was the new leader in the clubhouse. She focused at the screen: Adam Scott at 12 under and Charl Schwartzel at 11. Schwartzel's agent sat two tables away. He and Kultida Woods didn't speak.
Geoff Ogilvy walked through the room, accepting congratulations for his back-nine 31. He'd also carded a 10-under, tied with Woods. He needed a collapse by the golfers still on the course to have a chance to win. He, too, could do nothing but watch. First, he needed to find his wife.
"You seen Juli?" he asked.
She was just a few steps behind him, sinking into the couch after a long round, apologizing for being so sweaty. Golfers' wives are better at the watching than golfers; they have years of practice, standing to the side, helpless.
The tournament was about a half hour from ending, and anyone could win. Ogilvy and Woods were just two back, and the last few holes at Augusta National have derailed generations of would-be winners. Ogilvy joked about having no shot, but he didn't stop watching. He believed.
Tiger Woods did not.
Stevie Williams trudged past the window, carrying Tiger's clubs. The leaders dueled on the course. Stevie popped the hatch on the black Mercedes SUV, and as he put the clubs inside, a roar came in fast. He didn't turn around. Tiger was going home. Close isn't close enough, and time is not his friend.
AP Photo/Dave MartinCharl Schwartzel leaves No. 18 as the 2011 Masters champion.
Schwartzel got to 12-under, tying Adam Scott, and the golfers in the locker room headed to the parking lot, too. Bubba Watson walked out, carrying a FedEx box and a pink-shafted driver. Juli Ogilvy returned from the bar and looked over at Geoff. He was still just two shots back.
"You want a drink?" she asked.
"When I'm out of it," he said.
With every move shown on televisions in the Grill Room, Scott and Schwartzel didn't lose strokes. They gained them. Ogilvy looked at the leaderboard and, finally, knew his Masters was finished.
"I'll start drinking now, eh?" he said, smiling.
Schwartzel birdied 17.
Tiger's mom stood up from her table and left. The winnowing happened fast now. Just an hour ago, a half dozen golfers dreamed, grinding each shot, all with a shot of winning, their families and friends living and dying alongside. Now they slipped away.
Ogilvy came into the room with his golf bag.
"Ready?" he asked.
His wife grabbed her purse. She hugged K.J. Choi's wife, who watched her husband bleed strokes coming home. Not long ago, Choi had been in the hunt. Like Ogilvy and Woods, he believed. But memories like that have a tiny half-life, and once hope is gone, it's hard to remember what it ever felt like at all. Choi bogeyed 17. He missed a par putt at No. 18, and when the final putt dropped, his family hurried out the door.
Only Schwartzel remained. His closing birdie gave him a two-shot win. The cameras found his wife, as the other wives gathered up children and headed to the next town. His agent, who'd enduring the stress a table away from Tiger's mom, wrapped him in a hug. The grill room began to clear, the blenders soon to be silent, the televisions soon to be dark. Outside, under the Big Tree, the air cooled. Even the heat was a memory now.