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What it’s like to photograph an empty Augusta one year after Tiger winning

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A Getty photographer heads to a quiet and cleared out Augusta a year after he said he captured “the one.”

Masters Tournament Postponed Due to Coronavirus Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Getty’s Kevin Cox is one of the rare people who could compare this April’s Masters Tournament to last. He was at the 18th green when Tiger Woods tapped in to finish an improbable comeback. And he was also in Augusta during this time of pandemic and social distancing, capturing the locked gates and surrounding quiet after the most famous golf tournament in the world decided to postpone. The scenes were similar only in the fact that they were both surreal.

Cox photographed local businesses and just outside the gates of “The National” to show the quiet of Washington Road in 2020 during what would normally be a bustling week. He photographed familiar haunts, where signs that usually tell Masters traffic to come on in now remind the community to stay safe. There are many over-commercialized streets like Washington Road in the United States, and those are oddly still and quiet right now, too. But none of them also have the country’s most prominent golf course on it.

At the point where Washington Road meets this famous course, Cox felt he best captured the feeling around Augusta from a postponed Masters.

“I did a tight frame of the lock and off in the distance, you can see the flowers,” Cox said. “I wanted to try to make it — well, make it feel like it’s something that just seems that, ‘It’s not about to happen.’ Whereas normally, these gates might open up and you see right down Magnolia Lane and it’s like, ‘ahhhhhhhh.’”

Cox’s photo is referencing a famous image, one that Woods tried to re-create from home over the weekend when he was supposed to be going down the real Magnolia Lane for a title defense. Cox also wanted to represent the sports world on pause.

“Also in my head, I was thinking about what’s happening in the world,” Cox said. “That one frame it just seems like — the way things are going in the world, things have to be this way. It shows, ‘It’s here but we might be delayed a bit.’ That’s how I feel about it and what I wanted to say: ‘We’re here. But we just have to slow the process to make sure the world is OK.’”

The locked gate of 2020 was a far cry from how he found Augusta National the year before. Cox was one of four Getty photographers capturing the final round, which was shown again this past Sunday in a #MastersRewind to fill the void on CBS. Cox, who covers all American sports, from Alabama football to tennis, is a soccer fan and said covering the World Cup in Russia was the biggest personal thrill of his career. But that Sunday final round at the Masters became “the most thrilling sporting event that I’ve ever covered because of the entire story that came through with it.”

Unlike the deliberate pace of his trip to photograph Augusta this year, he knew last year that he might only have a split second to capture something which could become a regular image of the Masters. Cox waited hours for the shot, going to the photographer’s pens at the 18th green when Woods finished up his ninth hole.

“I was in the back left and I was the first one in there, thank gosh,” Cox said. Still, he was taking a risk for what could have been nothing more than an anticlimactic tap-in for fifth place. “As everything was unfolding and coming around, I was thinking, ‘This could happen. This could be the moment. This is amazing.’ Of course, you’re also thinking, ‘Where is he going to hit the ball? Where is it going to land. Which direction is he going to make this putt?’”

Woods did his part and came to the 18th the likely champion. But Cox still had to nail the moment from a crowded pen, within the din. “If you look back at the video, I can’t tell you the exact second, but his reaction was just seconds. And as a photographer, we can hold that moment in time where it looks like it lasted forever.”

Cox got the moment. As the photographer, his job is to shoot the action, but he is also continually thinking as a sports fan, trying to interpret what’s happening in front of him.

“[Tiger] is coming back and saying, ‘I’m here. I just did this.’” Cox said, recalling his thought process as Woods celebrated on the 18th green. “So for me, I wanted to photograph it big. I wanted every environment around because obviously I was hoping he was going to turn my — or stay in my direction.

“The sky was beautiful — it was very flat but the colors were just popping out. So for me, I just set myself up for a wide shot of everything, depending on how he reacted because I knew he’d give a reaction. So he just threw both hands up. Putter is way up in the air. At that moment, I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘Wow this is the one. This is it. This is going to be one of my greatest photos, for the story.”

As Cox’s work demonstrates, the story is all we have right now while Magnolia Lane sits locked shut.