June 21, 2024
Tiger Woods

This was a day in which Tiger Woods created unwanted history. This was a day where Scottie Scheffler – only briefly – displayed his fallibility. This was a day where the latest glimpse of golf’s exciting future was provided by Ludvig Åberg. It feels a pity that this Masters, already one for the ages, has to conclude.

Tiger Woods entered the record books on Friday after becoming the first player to successfully negotiate 24 Masters cuts in a row. True to form, the 48-year-old made bold predictions about challenging for the Green Jacket. We should probably know better by now than to fall under the Woods spell. Father Time is beaten by no man. A ragged first nine of 42 was his worst at Augusta National. It did not get much better thereafter. Woods signed for an 82, his poorest Masters round by four. Both of those 78s came in 2022; Woods’s pattern now is undoubtedly one of general decline. When taking to the podium for post-round media duties – and it is fully to his credit that he did that – Woods looked emotionally and physically spent.

“I didn’t have a very good warm-up session and I kept it going all day today,” Woods said. “I just hit the ball in all the places that I know I shouldn’t hit it. And I missed a lot of putts. Easy, makable putts. I missed a lot of them.

“I haven’t competed and played much. I made a putt at the 5th, I promptly three-putted the 6th and flubbed a chip at the 7th. I just got it going the wrong way and when I had opportunities to flip it, I didn’t.”

Tiger Woods did insist there was no prospect of Masters withdrawal before round four. “My team will get me ready,” he said. At some point, presumably soon, he has to ask if it is all worth the hassle. Sunday will mark his 100th Masters round. There is no pleasure to be derived from watching him fumble and stumble like this at a venue where he once dominated.

He cut a disconsolate figure as the tournament proper raged on in the background. Scheffler, the unflappable Scheffler, surprisingly offered hope to the field with a messy double bogey at the 10th. He proceeded to drop another shot at the 11th. At 5.30pm local time Åberg joined the Masters lead for the first time with a birdie at the 13th. It seemed amazing to consider this is the Swede’s first major appearance. A Scandinavian assault on Augusta had earlier seen Nicolai Højgaard tie Scheffler at the summit of the leaderboard. Højgaard painfully shipped four shots in a row from the 11th tee.

Åberg, too, was to stumble. The 15th provides opportunity. Instead, Europe’s rising star chipped over the green and dropped a shot. He had done likewise a hole earlier. Åberg remains firmly in the Masters hunt but will have to win from behind. A 70 left him at minus four.

Scheffler seemed upset at tales of his demise being whispered. He rattled home a 31ft early putt at the 13th to retake a share of the lead at six under par. Collin Morikawa, a two-time major winner, was now alongside him. Scheffler edged himself clear by converting for a birdie at the 15th. Another one, on the last, atoned for an error on the 17th. Scheffler’s minus seven leads Morikawa’s minus six after 54 holes. The world No 1 signed for a 71.

Picking the champion out of this melee would be a fool’s errand. Max Homa is five under.

Bryson DeChambeau, a key protagonist over three days, was in panic mode before holing out from the 18th fairway and 80 yards for a birdie. His tee shot found woodland. DeChambeau closed at three under. Beware Xander Schauffele, one shot further back.

Rory McIlroy will have to wait at least another year to complete the career grand slam. Damage to McIlroy was done during a second round of 77. He was in better form during Saturday’s 71 but issues this time in Georgia appear far more technical for McIlroy than psychological. In short, he is not playing particularly well. This has been a theme throughout 2024.

“All I can do is come here and try my best,” said McIlroy. “That’s what I do every time I show up. Some years it’s better than others. I’ve just got to keep showing up and try to do the right thing. I want to go out and finish on a positive note.” Taylor Swift was heavily rumoured to be making an appearance at Augusta on Saturday. In the end there were no sightings of the pop icon but the Masters provides an irritating Blank Space on McIlroy’s otherwise illustrious CV.

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