AUGUSTA, Georgia Not much sporting theatre can rival the thrills and spills of Augusta National's Amen Corner on the last day of the Masters and Sunday's closing round was no exception.
Entire golfing careers have been both defined and ruined by the 11th, 12th and 13th holes that wind their way between the Georgia pine trees and are pock-marked by the bright red azaleas, the infamous Rae's Creek and Ben Hogan's bridge.
Who can forget the way American Scott Hoch made a mess of the treacherous par-four 10th when he missed a two-foot putt to lose out to Britain's Nick Faldo in a playoff in gathering gloom in 1989?
Or the drama at the 12th in 1992 when Fred Couples' ball defied gravity, staying on the bank to avoid a watery grave as he scraped an unlikely par on the way to a two-stroke victory.
The best viewing area is at the top of the hill where spectators have a perfect vantage point of both the 11th green and the 12th tee.
The huge galleries are 30 to 35 deep and the atmosphere simply crackles with electricity.
The collective intake of breath when the leaderboard beside the 11th green is about to be changed to signify changing events elsewhere on the course is audible.
When eventual winner Bubba Watson was shown to have dropped a stroke at the 10th there were cries of 'Oh no Bubba'.
In stark contrast was the fever pitch of excitement generated when Georgia native Matt Kuchar delivered a majestic approach to the 11th that ended up stone dead.
Minutes later the local hero strode purposefully on to the green and tapped in his putt before being greeted by an ear-splitting chorus of 'Koooch, Koooch, Koooch'.
Former champion Couples is another favorite of the galleries and his age-defying performance was accorded due respect at the short 12th.
The smooth-swinging 54-year-old, who contended for the title all week before fading at the end to finish 10 shots behind the winner, was given a standing ovation when he walked on to the tee with cries ranging from 'C'mon Freddie' to 'Way to go Boom Boom'.
His attention perhaps deflected, Couples struck a wayward tee shot that failed to find the putting surface but he recovered in style with a delicate chip to 12 inches.
When there was a hiatus in play the chat among the crowd turned to banter with some striking private bets on who would get the next up and down at the fiendishly tough 11th and others wagering on the closest to the pin at the 12th.
Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez had the fans in stitches when he just about avoided Rae's Creek with his tee shot before turning to the crowd, offering an ear-to-ear grin and repeatedly tapping on his heart to denote his relief.
The two combatants in the final match of the day, Watson and young gun Jordan Spieth, were given a rousing welcome to the 11th green.
Both players had produced pinpoint approach shots that had the massed throng on their feet, whooping and hollering.
Watson and Spieth failed to convert their birdie opportunities and almost as soon as they walked off the 12th tee the noise died down as most made their way to the exits.
'See you next year,' said one marshal as his friend in the crowd placed his green Masters foldup chair under his arm. 'You bet,' came the reply.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)
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