AUGUSTA — As Bubba Watson approached the 18th green, the man in a red jacket came out in front of the mostly empty folding seats to perform the introductions.
“Our first player today is Bubba Watson, a Georgia Bulldog,” the man said proudly.
He went on to give Bubba’s pertinent career stats, especially the part about him being only the 17th player to win two Masters, and so on. It was a nice touch, even with the howling wind and the sparse gallery.
“He’s our first player this morning,” the man said. Then he corrected himself, because it was past 1 o’clock, saying, “Our first player this afternoon.”
The other player in the group didn’t get an introduction or a mention. His caddie wore an anonymous white jumpsuit with no name on the back and carried a plain green carry bag with leg-stands.
That player was Jeff Knox, an amateur and an Augusta National member who has been serving as a marker (a scorekeeper who plays along) since 2003 whenever the Masters field has an odd number of players and a competitor has to play by himself.
Knox became famous — maybe a little too famous in the eyes of the club — when he was Rory McIlroy’s marker two years ago and shot 70 to the pro’s 71. That was big news because McIroy was the No. 1 player in the world rankings at the time.
But publicity is not what the club wants and, therefore, not what Mr. Knox wants, either. At the National, markers should neither be seen nor heard, so Knox annually declines media requests (although I wrote about him recently for SI’s Masters preview issue).
Saturday morning’s pairing was the sixth straight year the Masters field had an odd number of players. Watson, alone in 57th, needed a marker, as per club and tournament policy, and Knox, who also is on the tournament pin-setting committee, obliged again.
This was the ninth Masters that Knox appeared in and his 16th Masters round. It was probably the toughest Masters conditions he played in, too, with winds gusting from 20-30 mph.
Bubba shot 76, four over par, and declined to speak with a waiting crowd of a dozen or more media members. Knox, as usual, also declined an invitation to talk.
Observers figured Watson’s score was at least two strokes lower than Knox’s on the holes they both finished. (Knox hit into the water at the par-3 12th hole and did not go to the drop zone and hit a third shot, he simply picked up. So that would’ve likely been a double bogey or worse.)
At 18, Knox was under the sprawling tree in the right rough about 80 yards short of the green, presumably in two. From there, he played a superb punch shot under the branches that landed softly on the green and trickled just off the back edge.
He putted carefully from just off the green, but his putt lacked speed and died hard to the left, leaving him about five feet for bogey.
Meanwhile, Watson’s first putt from 50 feet fooled him and broke left at the end, leaving him a slightly downhill five-footer for par. He missed, and then finished up his last three-footer for bogey.
Knox took off his hat and shook hands with Watson, then bent down to retrieve his marker. He did not putt out. Knox is known as a terrific putter but that putt was no gimmie. Still, concede Knox a double at 12 and that last putt and he would’ve scored around 80, 81 or 82. Give the win to Bubba.
Based on information from observers (because Knox doesn’t post an official score and often doesn’t finish every hole), Knox has shot lower than his 16 Masters competitor partners six times, with one estimated tie (6-9-1).
Not that anyone’s counting.