AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s moving day at Augusta National, which this year means, Pack your up boxes, boys. This thing is ovah! We kid, of course. Sure, Heir Jordan looks unstoppable, but ask the Houston Oilers how quickly seemingly insurmountable halftime leads can go poof (see, Oilers v. Bills, ’93 playoffs). Or if you’re more of a golf guy, ask Greg Norman how the ’96 Masters worked out for him. However it plays out, the next two days will make for fascinating theater. As we ramp up for the home stretch, here are 5 things to think about:
1. THE SUPER-MARKER IS BACK
You remember Jeff Knox, right? He’s the Augusta member and non-competing marker who played with Rory McIlroy in the third round of last year’s Masters … and dusted Rors by a stroke. This year Knox, 49, got the call to pick on someone closer to his own age, 48-year-old Steve Stricker. Theirs was the first pairing out this morning, at 10:05 a.m. Keep it tuned to Golf.com to see how Knox fares. The course record, by the way, is 63. Knox’s best round here? A 61. O.K., from the members’ tees. But still…
2. SPIETH DOESN’T NEED TO GO LOW TODAY, NOR SHOULD YOU EXPECT HIM TO
This isn’t the John Deere Classic—no Masters champion has ever played four rounds at Augusta without suffering at least a few scrapes and bruises. Bubba Watson shot 74 in the third round last year. Adam Shot carded a 72 in the second round in ’13. The last time Tiger Woods won, in 2005, he opened with an unsightly 74, and back in ’97 he famously stumbled out of the gates with a front-nine 40. Point is, it’s highly unlikely that Spieth will need two more sub-70 rounds to slip on the green jacket. So let’s not all freak out if he shoots around par today.
3. THE MCIL-BUST
The good news for Rory: he blitzed Augusta’s back nine on Friday with an eagle and four birdies. The bad news: he shot 40 on the front. The net result: a second-consecutive 71 that’s left a yawning chasm between him and Spieth. If he was a hopeless optimist like Tiger, McIlroy might say, “I’m ONLY 12 back!” But Rory is a realist. “A few guys could catch him,” he said. “It would take something exceptional for me to do that.” See you in Chambers Bay, Rors.
4. THE 1:15 P.M. PAIRING!
The golf gods so often taketh, but on this glorious Masters Saturday they have giveth, in the deliciously strained pairing of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia. As if Sergio’s haunting past on this dogwooded stage isn’t daunting enough for him, the easily frazzled Spaniard today has to stroll the fairways with a guy who feels about as much love for him as Manny Pacquiao does for Floyd Mayweather. “It was gonna happen at some point sooner or later!” Sergio cheerily tweeted on Friday night. “Paired with @TigerWoods tomorrow but don’t you worry guys, I’m sure we’ll both be fine.” Golf.com can confirm that Tiger did not favorite that tweet.
5. SPEAKING OF TIGER…
Lost in all the excitement over Jordan Spieth on Friday was the fact that Tiger Woods shot a 3-under 69, representing his first score sub-70 score at Augusta since 2011 and just his second subpar round at a major in his last 15 rounds. Raise your hand if you saw that coming. If Woods can replicate that feat today or tomorrow, it will mark the first time in four years that he has broken 70 in the weekend at a major. Regardless of his play over the next two days, Woods has to look at this week as a success. “I’ve told everybody that he seems in a really good place mentally and physically,” said Mark O’Meara, who was chirping about Woods’s improved form after their practice rounds together. “I see more of the old Tiger Woods.”