One of the perks of winning the Masters, besides the green jacket and an instant etching into history, is a lifetime invitation to play the tournament.
Seven survived the cut this year: Phil Mickelson, José María Olazábal, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson. But even more didn’t, including Dustin Johnson, who won just last year with a tournament record 20 under par but this time around three-putted six holes.
So why do they come back? In Johnson’s case, of course, it is because he is still in the prime of his career. But consider, say, Fred Couples, who won the 1992 tournament and has placed no higher than third in a major since 2005.
“It’s not a competition for me,” Couples said last week, before he missed the Masters cut for the third consecutive tournament. “The competition is for myself to play the course the best I can, and when that becomes havoc, then I will have probably played my last Masters.”
Besides, playing or not, most former winners come back to Augusta each year for the closed-door dinner of champions and the club chairman. The 2021 menu, which Johnson selected and paid for, included pigs-in-a-blanket, filet mignon and peach cobbler.
But for players who are young enough, the hope of another title lurks. Mickelson, who earned a three-under 69 on Saturday to move even on the tournament, thought he could still contend on Sunday — maybe.
“You want that opportunity to do what Nicklaus did in ’86 and shoot 65 and have a chance,” he said after his third round. “I don’t know if that will be good enough, but I’m having a lot of fun.”
When I played Augusta National the day after Tiger Woods’s 2019 victory, I made a par at the treacherous, pivotal par-3 12th hole. At about 6 p.m. tonight, I could sell that par to one of the leaders for a princely sum.
Billy Horschel just made it through No. 13 without slipping down a slope.
This counts as something of an achievement — even if, for the second consecutive day, he needed to remove his socks and shoes to make it through the hole.
Let’s back up. Horschel’s second shot on Saturday landed in Rae’s Creek, one of the dangers of the par-5 hole. So Horschel’s socks and shoes came off as he prepared to try a shot from the water. But after he surveyed the green before his attempt, he lost his footing and slid down the hill, prompting a consultation with Phil Mickelson, the three-time Masters winner who was his partner for the day, and later blamed the steepness of the bank and the wetness of the rye.
“I said, ‘How bad is that grass stain going to be?’” Horschel, who was sporting white pants, recounted after the round. “And he said, ‘There may not be one there,’ and he looked and said, ‘Yeah, there’s one there. Sorry, buddy.’” (Asked whether he had faced a more embarrassing moment, he replied: “I’ve ripped my pants a few times — and early in the rounds.”)
The shot went much better.
“It was probably a couple inches under the water,” Horschel said, adding, “I knew there was a whole bunch of green behind me, so as long as I hit it hard enough, it would come out.”
It did, lifting up onto the green and past the pin to set up a two-putt, and Horschel ultimately made par.
“It was an incredible golf shot,” Mickelson said later. “That’s not easy. Sometimes that thing comes out kind of blah. I’m curious how he hit that.”
Then came Sunday, when Horschel’s tee shot landed in the water.
Much as Horschel fans might hope, we are not making this up.
Off came the footwear.
His recovery shot managed to leave the water but headed straight into a rock-strewn slope. His third shot went a few inches. At last cutting his losses, he took a drop, only to see what was technically his fifth stroke wind up in the gallery. Horschel’s sixth put him onto the green, where he putted well.
But it was very much a miserable showing on the hole: eight strokes — good for a triple-bogey that moved him to six over par for the tournament. At least, though, he did not rip his pants.
The atmosphere as the first eight or 10 pairings of golfers tee off in the final round of the Masters is always a bit peculiar. The competitors are, in theory, vying for the tournament title, but in reality they are too far behind to have a shot and most are trying play quickly (and well) so they can be done in time to watch the real show when the tournament leaders tee off at about 2:40 p.m. Eastern time.
Usually, there are about 40,000 fans on the Augusta National Golf Club grounds to watch the first groups play and the crowd is excited for the final round to start, which gives even mundane shots by players in 49th place some import.
But at this year’s Masters, there are probably fewer than 10,000 fans allowed on the property, which makes traffic to the golf course a breeze. That has meant that the early crowds for the final round have been thin.
The early groups of players are making their way around Augusta National with a following that more closely resembles the last day of a local club championship than the most celebrated golf tournament in the world. At noon today, as Bryson DeChambeau walked to the fifth green, a couple spectators were having a conversation with him from 40 yards away — and both parties had no trouble hearing each other.
Only at the 2021 Masters.
Two players making their debuts at the Masters are in the top 10. Get excited — but not too excited.
Will Zalatoris, who is seven under par for the tournament, finished Saturday’s round in a tie for second. He tees off at 2:20 p.m. Eastern time. And Robert MacIntyre, at two under and teeing off at 2 p.m., was among those standing in 10th place on Sunday morning. If either of them can prevail, a mighty ask given that Hideki Matsuyama is at 11 under, the Masters will have a first-time player as its champion, ending a drought that has lasted since Fuzzy Zoeller managed the feat in 1979.
“I’m here because I got here on merit, and I’m here to win a golf tournament,” MacIntyre, a 24-year-old player from Scotland who qualified for the Masters because of his world ranking. “If I wasn’t trying to win this golf tournament, I’d be sitting at home with my feet up watching it. I’ve prepared for the last two years or the last year, my goal was top 50 in order to get in this golf tournament because I love watching it so much. I’m here now, and I’m trying to win it.”
Newcomers have made serious runs toward the green jacket in the past. Just in November, for instance, Sungjae Im placed second in the tournament, and C.T. Pan finished in a tie for seventh. Abraham Ancer, who entered the final round tied with Im for the runner-up slot, was one of the 13th place finishers.
But Zoeller is the only modern exception to the seeming rule that newcomers must fade on a course that rewards experience. Just two other men have won the Masters in their debuts: Horton Smith in 1934, when Augusta National first held the tournament, and Gene Sarazen followed him in 1935.
Zalatoris acknowledged that the course could be intimidating. But, he said, “The fact that I wanted to be here my entire life actually almost frees me up.”
Let’s run through the assessments of the greens — besides the customary diagnosis of “fast and firm” — that we’ve heard over the last week around Augusta National.
“Fiery,” Adam Scott declared. “Very different from the ones in November,” said C.T. Pan. “Pure,” Kevin Kisner said.
“If it stays dry, it’ll be as difficult as the course has played in a long, long time, and that’s what I think we need to have,” Fred Couples said early in the week.
Couples, the 1992 champion, largely got his wish. But now it has rained — a quick system that forced a delay during the third round on Saturday. (Hideki Matsuyama spent the time, he said, in his car playing games on his cellphone. He finished the day at 11 under par on the week, so maybe there is a lesson there.)
Virtually no one is expecting the greens to be anywhere near as soft as they were in November, when Dustin Johnson won the tournament with a record 20 under. The greens, though, might be just a little less glass-like, perhaps inviting fewer debacles like Bernd Wiesberger’s eagle putt on No. 15 that rolled all the way into the water.
Players have spent the tournament both talking about the perils of the greens and celebrating them.
“It’s set up perfect to identify kind of the best player, and the guys that are striking it well are up on the leaderboard, the guys that are putting it well,” Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters winner, said on Saturday. “And I think it’s very fair because we’re making divots, the balls are stopping. It’s not like the ’90s where we weren’t, but you have to have quality shots. You’ve got to hit angles into the pins. You’ve got to be smart.”
Mickelson, who had suggested just days earlier that Augusta National’s greens had been too forgiving in recent years, declared the course “perfectly done.”
“It punishes you — like it did me the first couple of days — when you make mistakes or don’t put it in the right spot or hit poor chips,” he said. “I love seeing it like this because you can score low, but you also need to respect it.”
When the 2020 Masters, delayed by coronavirus pandemic, was played last November, the course was not in its usual springtime shape, as Bill Pennington and Alan Blinder reported. The golfers ran amok, and Dustin Johnson won with a score of 20 under par, the largest margin of victory in the history of the tournament, with 43 players finishing under par.
What a difference a season makes. Here’s what happened in the first three rounds this week:
On Thursday, the course had its way with the field, with only 11 golfers finishing under par. Justin Rose was an outlier, shooting a seven-under-par 65, and led after the first round. Only Rose, Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama shot below 70.
On Friday, the fan favorite Jordan Spieth, who has been waging a steady comeback and won his first tournament since 2017 the previous week at the Texas Valero Open, turned in an excellent round, a four-under-par 68. He was just two strokes behind Rose, the second-round leader. In a bit of a shock, Johnson, the defending champion, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy all failed to make the cut.
A 78-minute rain delay set up a remarkable run up the leaderboard by Matsuyama. The 29-year-old Japanese star shot 65 to enter Sunday’s final round 11 under par. Four golfers were tied for second: Rose, Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman and the Masters rookie Will Zalatoris.
Coverage of the Masters Tournament is split across a number of television networks, streaming platforms and websites, making it confusing to understand how to watch. The good news is that there are a number of viewing options, some of them free, for golf fans.
Here is how you can catch Sunday’s final round.
The main action
The traditional television coverage of the tournament’s final round, which will culminate with somebody donning a green jacket, can be seen on CBS from 2 to 7 p.m. Eastern time. That coverage will be simulcast in the CBS Sports app and on the Paramount+ streaming service.
Groups begin teeing off in the morning, however, and you can start watching the Masters with your coffee. On the Masters livestream there are four different “channels” to watch:
These options all begin and end at different times, depending on when the first golfers reach the different holes, but the featured groups channel kicks things off at 10:25 a.m. Eastern. The featured groups are Paul Casey and Billy Horschel (10:30 a.m.), Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English (11 a.m.), Justin Spieth and Brian Harman (2:10 p.m.) and Justin Rose and Marc Leishman (2:30 p.m.).
You can watch the Masters livestream in a number of different places. ESPN+, Paramount+, the CBS Sports app, CBSSports.com and Masters.com all carry it.
If you are more interested in analysis from talking heads and footage of golfers practicing before their tee times, the Golf Channel is live from the Masters both before and after the main coverage on CBS. If you miss the final round, encore coverage begins almost immediately, at 8 p.m. Eastern on the CBS Sports Network.
The Masters Tournament is one of the South’s grandest spring traditions. Doug Mills, a New York Times staff photographer, has been capturing the atmosphere all week: