Dan Woodland walked along the ropes on the 17th hole, looking out toward his son in the middle of the fairway. It was late on Saturday afternoon, and the gallery had swelled, the whispers and buzz filtering through the grounds at Augusta National Golf Club.
Dan Woodland’s son, for nearly two hours, was the hottest player on the golf course, racking up birdies and ripping through the front nine at a record pace. For a father watching his son play in his third Masters, it was the kind of moment you wanted to soak in. Even if the larger gallery was now starting to block some of his views.
“I can’t see,” Dan Woodland said, smiling.
Nearly 50 yards away, Gary Woodland, the Topeka native and former KU standout, stood in the middle of the fairway, inspecting his second shot at the par-4 17th. For 10 holes on Saturday, he had taken Augusta by storm, seizing the moment with a record-tying 6-under 30 on the front nine. When Woodland and playing partner, Billy Horschel, made the turn to go to No. 10, a wave of fans from near the adjacent 18th green had hopped on. Woodland then made birdie on the 10th to go 7 under for the day and 4 under for the tournament. The course record of 63 was in sight.
“I was thinking a low number,” Woodland would say. “I was pretty much zoned in.”
He did not see the galleries building or tension rising. He could only sense the roars getting louder.
“That was a good run,” Dan Woodland said, standing just off the fairway at the 17th.
The Masters, of course, is made for moments like this, the unexpected charge sending chills through the pine trees. For 10 holes, the day belonged to Woodland, who would give four shots back in the final eight holes and finish the day at even par after firing a 3-under 69.
Woodland is now a long shot heading into the final day here at Augusta, but he won’t soon forget his historic front nine. He became just the fifth player to shoot 30 on the front nine, and the first since Phil Mickelson in the final round in 2009. The only others to do it were K.J. Choi in 2004, Greg Norman in 1988 and Johnny Miller in 1975.
As Dan Woodland watched his son finish out his round, he thought back to all the long days he spent at golf courses growing up. All the hours on baseball diamonds and basketball courts before he transferred to KU more than 10 years ago to focus on golf. Dan Woodland, like most in his family, always thought Gary’s future was in baseball. Now he was watching him tie the front-nine record at Augusta.
“It all goes back to that sacrifice he made in life,” Dan Woodland said.
One day earlier, Woodland had left the 18th green frustrated after finishing his second round with four straight bogeys. He was 1 under at the 15th tee — poised to be on the leaderboard heading into the weekend — and suddenly he was 3 over par and nearly out of contention.
Woodland headed for the driving range to work out some kinks in his driver, then passed along a message to some members of his inner circle here in Augusta, including Dan and his mother, Linda. For two days, he had stuck to his 3-wood off the tee, only hitting driver on three or four holes. On Saturday, he was ready to unleash his long game. He was ready to go low.
“I just felt it,” Woodland said. “I played really well on Thursday and yesterday I was just off with the driver. I fixed it last night on the range. I felt great. And I rode it today.”
Woodland picked up early momentum with a birdie on No. 1 and an eagle at the second, a long but reachable par-5. He added birdies at six, eight, nine and 10 before the magic dried up with a double-bogey at the par-3 12th. His tee shot ended up short, dunking into Rae’s Creek, and any hope to challenge the course record appeared to fade away.
“I was playing aggressive,” Woodland said. “I knew I had to hit it good, and I hit it a little bit heavy. When I hit it, I knew it was going to be short.”
In the moments after his round, Woodland wanted to stay confident. He had still shot 69. He still put himself in position for his best finish in three Masters. (He tied for 24th in 2011.) For 10 holes, he had put together a Masters moment. Sometimes, the moment just can’t last.
“I need some help from the guys in front of me,” Woodland said. “But hopefully I can go have a low one tomorrow and see where it stands.”
He added: “Hopefully I get the back nine tomorrow.”