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Neal Shipley emerges onto the first tee to a ripple of applause. The masses extend every last millimetre out of their bodies to get a good view, but it’s not a glimpse of the only amateur left in the 88th Masters they’re after.

Moments later, a wave of rapture sweeps its way along the crowded rope as Tiger Woods appears for the first time in his Sun Day Red Sunday red.

The two players could not be further apart in the golf sphere. One has won 15 majors, including five here, a record number of PGA Tour titles, a number of weeks at World No 1 that will never be beaten, and is one half of the Greatest of All Time debate. The other is still a student and is the 37th-ranked amateur in the world.

Now, though, they are stood on the same tee box on the grandest stage of them all. Augusta National Golf Club.

Shipley, who will get the third group of this final day underway, has a brief chat with childhood friend-turned-caddie Carter Pitcairn and pulls his three-wood from his Ping bag.

He takes a practice swing. Then another. Then one more. Woods pulls the same club and stands a couple of feet in front of Shipley. In unison they take a practice swing. Then another. Then one more. The crowd falls silent. Almost hypnotised by the synchronicity.

“Fore please!” booms the Green Jacket tasked with getting this oddest of odd couples away. “Now driving, Neal Shipley!”

Applause turns into hushed tones turns into concerned murmurs as his ball sails towards the huge bunker that protects the right-hand side of the fairway.

“Fore please! Now driving, Tiger…”

He pauses just long enough that you don’t think he’s going to finish. The patrons wait patiently.


In this moment it feels like there is no one outside this tiny portion of land that houses the first and tenth tees and the ninth and 18th greens. You’re trapped in a bubble as a wave of anticipation, and excitement, and emotion overwhelms anyone within earshot.

The blistering noise of wood on balata releases the tension and a huge roar spills into the silence. For a routine drive down the middle of a huge fairway.

Shipley’s day alongside Woods is underway. They stride down the fairway and for the next four and a half hours the pair trade blows and share jokes as the azaleas wilt in the Georgia heat.

Tiger Woods and Neil Shipley
Tiger Woods and Neal Shipley share a joke during their final round at the 88th Masters (Credit: Getty Images)

As they come up 18 to the same level of adoration to which they had got underway just a few yards away and 18 holes ago, Shipley marks one final five on his card and scribbles his signature next to a 73 and a tie for 53rd. Woods is five shots better off than his unwanted record-breaking 82 on Saturday, but he’s seven back of his playing partner and, worse still, 60th out of the 60 who made the weekend.

Twenty minutes later, Shipley almost floats into the interview room of Augusta’s grandiose press building, his smile leaving nothing to the imagination.

“It’s been a dream week,” he says, almost underselling it. “Playing with Tiger on Sunday at the Masters? I think I’ll have to win one of these to top this.”

Somewhat perversely, Shipley had found himself paired with Woods after a miserable third-round 80 saw him tumble down the leaderboard. But his bitterness didn’t last when Pitcairn broke the news to his boss for the week.

“I wasn’t too pleased after the round,” Shipley explains. “We went to the practice facility to get some work in and my caddie came up to me and said, ‘Hey, guess who we are going to be paired with tomorrow?’ I was just like, ‘No way it’s Tiger?’ I got pretty excited. That’s when the emotions turned around.

“We got some good sleep in last night. We were not too close to the lead, so I wasn’t too nervous. But when we got here this morning and saw Tiger on the range, it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is actually happening!’ I went over to introduce myself.”

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Playing with the best player to pick up a golf club – in his specialty arena, no less – Shipley would be forgiven for being a complete wreck. Instead, it was quite the opposite.

“It’s one of my more relaxed rounds of the week,” he says with a wry grin. “Tiger made me feel really welcomed. He was cool, chatting it up…”

He smiles as he remembers the last few hours of his life that he’ll never forget.

“Just a kind of a cool, casual round with Tiger Woods,” he continues. “You know, other than you’re here at the Masters.

“We talked a lot about golf, [Woods’ son] Charlie, and just normal things. He’s such a normal guy and really cool. He was great to me all day. I couldn’t be more appreciative of him just being awesome today, and it was just really cool to be around him and just the attention he gets and the roars.

“I was certainly rooting for him and rooting for good golf shots. I wish him nothing but the best.

“I really appreciate all the work that he does to keep his body ready to come out here. He told me that he woke up at 3:45 this morning just to get ready for the day, so I got about three hours more sleep than him.

“He’s really grinding and making a big commitment to be out here for everyone. It’s awesome to see the patrons really appreciative of him and really enjoy having him out here.

“The crowds were phenomenal.”

Tiger Woods and Neil Shipley
Neal Shipley introduced himself to Tiger Woods on the range before their round. (Credit: Getty Images)

Playing – and winning, by the way – a “cool, casual round” with Woods could not be further from where Shipley was just two years ago, an “unknown” – his word – college golfer at James Madison University.

“It’s been quite the journey,” the now Ohio State player sighs. “It’s been a lot of hard work and there’s been a lot of lows along the journey.

“But I’ve been really proud of myself, how I’ve rolled with the punches throughout the years and kept working and striving for goals like this. Seeing all that hard work pay off has been unbelievable.”

Shipley had booked his spot at the Masters thanks to a runner-up finish to Nick Dunlap – now a PGA Tour winner and a professional, of course – in last year’s US Amateur. It also earned him a place in the US Open at Pinehurst in two months time.

If he can get down from Cloud Nine in time.

Want more from Augusta? Listen to Michael and Alex on the Masters daily commute episodes of The bunkered Podcast.


author headshot

Alex Perry is the Associate Editor of bunkered. A journalist for more than 20 years, he has been a golf industry stalwart for the majority of his career and, in a five-year spell at ESPN, covered every sporting event you can think of. He completed his own Grand Slam at the 2023 Masters, having fallen in love with the sport at his hometown club of Okehampton and on the links of nearby Bude & North Cornwall.

Associate Editor

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