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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2007-04-25

A Masterful Shot: The story behind SI's Masters cover
By Robert Beck, Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated
I don't remember Tiger saying anything as he twisted his body to match the arc of his shot off the 11th tee at Augusta National.

It was the final day of the 2007 Masters and Tiger was battling for his fifth green jacket. But he just kept twisting there in front of the azaleas. And then the grimace. Ohhhhhh ...That meant trouble. Maybe the grove of trees lining the right side of the fairway. Maybe the pine needles and the crowd.

I couldn't see the fairway from where I was shooting the box. I told my assistant we had to hurry down there... Might be something good. We hustled down a little gully and over the ridge and saw the crowd gathered around the edge of the fairway near the trees. They were thick. I glanced over my shoulder and saw we were still ahead of Tiger.

Ron, my assistant, and I went around and past the crowd. Down the hill and rope line a bit. I gave him the 400 to hold along with the 600 and told him I'd be back. I then headed up the rope line to a tree figuring it would act as a bit of cover and Tiger might not have to move me.

His ball was nestled up in the needles close to a tree just inside the ropes. Too tight for a "regular" swing. Tiger started to figure out how to play his shot. Checked his yardage. Cleared out some people. Thought about hitting it lefty. Thought about hitting it reverse backwards. Directed some more folks, picked a club and settled in for the shot.

I was still kneeling next to my tree. Tim Clary of Agence France Presse had camped over my shoulder. The shadows were difficult to work with. There was some sun but the scene was very spotty. I did not have time to check any exposures (chimping) because I didn't want to miss any of the things Tiger was doing leading up to the shot. I was shooting RAW so I didn't worry too much. My only concern was whether I would be able to see Tiger's face or not.

I figured I'd at least see it after he hit the ball. I also figured there would be a splash of pine needles after impact and that he would not be able to avoid striking the tree with his club on his follow through. I had seen him hit a tree before. I had seen Rory Sabbatini snap his shaft on a tree at Torrey Pines. That's what I was thinking about in those few moments before Tiger's shot.

I wanted to shoot just a hair late to try and capture the explosion and the club on the tree. Too early and the impact would be too clean. All quiet now. Tiger is behind the tree and wiggles a bit trying to envision his shot.

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Tiger Woods glares at Robert Beck after breaking his club on the tree.
Then whack! Pine needles, dirt, pebbles and squirrel teeth fly. Forrest shrapnel is everywhere. I can hear it and feel it. Tiger releases his club but I can't see where it went. Did it fly past me? I never see Tiger's face. He recoils back from the tree, facing away from the hole. Darn it! The crowd gasps then roars. Tiger walks toward the rope and ... picks up his bent club. He cranks it until it snaps in two and hands it to a course marshal.

I head down to my assistant and we weave through the crowd to a photo pen down by the 12 green. Tiger's shot out of the woods was fabulous, right to the front of the green. He saves par on the hole.

As he waits to tee off on 13 I check through my tree sequence. It's hard to tell but it looks pretty good. It wasn't until after midnight at my hotel in Atlanta that I saw the image at full res. The club wrapped around the tree. The needles ... And the ball. It was a nice image. A lucky score.

But where would it fit in the story? Tiger didn't win the tournament. Well, I figured it was in the hands of the folks in the office now. Miriam Marseu, our golf picture editor would find it and take it from there. The next morning I left Atlanta for a shoot in Puerto Rico. When I landed there were a couple of messages on my phone from the office extolling the virtues of the image ... And that it was our Masters cover.

A great way to beat jet lag.


(Robert Beck is a Sports Illustrated staff photographer based in Southern California. When he is not walking the links covering the PGA for SI, he is playing his Hammond B-3 or surfing with his trusty companion/assistant Kojo. You can view his work at: http://www.sportsshooter.com/beck; http://www.robertbeckphotography.com/)

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Beck's member page

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