No lead is safe at the Masters

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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. “But the only problem is if some guys make a run and they get some momentum going, and you’re going the other way, you give them a big shot of energy. You’ve seen some of these guys pull off some pretty low rounds. It doesn’t take much. If you get off to a poor start and the other guy gets off to a quick start, four or five shots can be made up in a few holes.”

That’s how it was for Woods last year, but only for half of his round. He made up a seven-shot deficit in nine holes, going out in 31 with a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch on the front nine as McIlroy stalled. Woods wasn’t alone, of course. Charl Schwartzel started his round with a chip across the green for an improbable birdie, and holing a wedge from the third fairway for eagle.

Three holes into the final round, McIlroy’s lead already was gone.

Jack Nicklaus never coughed up the lead going into the last round at a major, although twice he failed to win when he was tied — at Turnberry in his epic duel with Tom Watson in 1977, and at Augusta when Charles Coody beat him in 1971.

Even so, he remains annoyed at a blown opportunity in the ‘77 Masters, when he was tied with Watson and in the group right in front of his newest rival. He had 156 yards to the pin when he heard a big roar from behind — Watson made birdie.

“I changed my thought pattern, and I shouldn’t have,” Nicklaus said. “I had a 6-iron in my hand, planning to play it by the hole to the right and have that 15-foot putt right of the hole to win the golf tournament. I tried to stuff it in, hit it fat, hit in the bunker and let Watson play the last hole any way he wanted, which was really stupid.

“I mean, here I am, 37 years old, and I still make a dumb mistake like that,” said Nicklaus, who made bogey and lost by two when Watson took par on the 18th. “It’s one of the few that I can turn around and kick myself for what I did.”

Stuart Appleby’s demise at the Masters began early in 2007. He had a comfortable lead until taking a triple bogey on the 17th hole of the third round. With a one-shot lead over Woods on Sunday, he started with a tee shot into the trees for a double bogey. Appleby rallied to rejoin the lead until a 7-iron into the water on the 12th. Woods wasn’t much better, and Zach Johnson wound up winning.

“It’s not 18 holes of golf, it’s 18 holes of emotion,” Appleby said. “If you can keep your emotions in check at a high level, you will be a world-class player. When you see a player struggling to finish, it’s purely not keeping your emotions in check.”

McIlroy was that kind of player last year. When he looked back on tape, he noticed that he was looking at the ground, not walking with his head up and that boyish bounce in his step. He believes now he wasn’t ready to win a major.

Boy Wonder atoned for that quickly. Two months later, he became a major champion with a record win at the U.S. Open.

Perhaps it was only appropriate that of all the text messages and phone calls of support in the days after the Masters, the most meaningful was a call from Norman.

“It was great coming from him, because I’m sure he knew how I felt,” McIlroy said. “He said a couple things to me that I found very useful and put into practice, especially weeks like this where there’s so much hype and there’s so much buildup. I’ve said this before, but create this little bubble around yourself and just try and get into that and don’t let any of the outside interference come into that.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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