AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — 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. Ken Venturi was on the verge of becoming the only amateur to win the Masters in 1956 when he blew a four-shot lead. Like McIlroy, he shot an 80.
Kyle Stanley had a three-shot lead playing the final hole at Torrey Pines when he spun a wedge into the water and three-putted for a triple bogey, losing to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff. A week later, Spencer Levin had a six-shot lead in the Phoenix Open when his game imploded on the back nine. He shot 75 and Stanley — of all people — rallied from eight shots behind to beat him.
Charlie Wi lost a three-shot lead at Pebble Beach and Phil Mickelson won with a 64. The next week at Riviera, Mickelson and Keegan Bradley shared the 54-hole lead and both wound up losing to Bill Haas in a playoff.
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. Along with his win over Norman in 1996, he came from five shots down in 1989 and three shots behind in 1990, both times winning in a playoff.
“That’s the beauty of the Masters,” Faldo said. “We come back every year, all those stories are compounded, from victory and failure. That’s what makes it so special. The players will be reminded of it. Anything more than three or four shots, and you’re making assumptions. 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. He was either leading or tied going into the final round in all four of his Masters wins — along with his other 10 majors.