Augusta: The seven shots Rory McIlroy took on the 10th hole last year at the Masters remain a blur. So was the rest of his final round at Augusta National, where the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland made the wrong kind of history. He started with a four-shot lead. He finished 10 shots behind after an 80, the highest closing round by a 54-hole leader in 56 years.
If nothing else, it was a reminder how tenuous a lead can be in the final round. Especially at the Masters. “It’s a course that makes you really nervous,” Geoff Ogilvy said.
There is an art to playing Augusta, which explains why nearly 40 percent of the Masters have been won by eight players. For those seeking their first green jacket, let alone their first Major, finishing it off can be a challenge.
Greg Norman lost a record six-shot lead in 1996. Ed Sneed had a five-shot lead in 1979, and was still three shots clear with three holes remaining when he made three straight bogeys and lost in a playoff.
McIlroy’s blown lead is enough of a memory going into the Masters. Adding to the emphasis is a bad habit of 54-hole leaders failing to win this year on the PGA Tour.
In 14 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour, only five players have gone on to win with at least a share of the third-round lead. With that kind of history, protecting a lead is not easy. “Not even close to easy, as we’ve seen,” Nick Faldo said.
He should know. Faldo is the only player with multiple Masters wins who has never had the lead going into the last day.
“That’s the beauty of the Masters,” Faldo said. “If you were to carry a decent lead into Sunday, you’d need a steel-trap mind to survive.”
That was never a problem for Tiger Woods, who once again, commands the spotlight this year and who has been installed as a 4-1 favourite by British bookmakers Ladbrokes to win his 15th Major on Sunday.
Woods was either leading or tied going into the final round in all four of his Masters wins - along with his other 10 Majors. Woods never saw it as a burden, though.
“The beauty of having a lead is that you can make those mistakes and still win,” Woods said.