5 Things: What to watch for Masters Sunday
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Five things to focus on before the final round at Augusta National, where Rory McIlroy leads by four at 12 under par:
1. Numbers game: The numbers favor a McIlroy victory. Nineteen of the past 20 Masters champions have come out of the final group (Zach Johnson, 2007, is the lone exception). Sixteen of the past 25 Masters winners were ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
McIlroy is ranked ninth. He’s playing in the final group with Angel Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champ.
Cabrera, ranked 69th when he won his green jacket, is the lowest-ranked player to triumph at Augusta National. He could break that record today; he’s 97th.
2. More McIlroy: McIlroy has hit 43 of 54 greens in regulation this week, second-best in the field (David Toms, 44). McIlroy also leads the field in driving distance (303.3 yards), and has zero three-putts through 54 holes.
“I’ve been talking about it with my little team all year about just playing stress-free golf,” McIlroy said. Hitting it long, hitting greens and putting well. That’s a good way to accomplish that goal.
Few days in golf are more stressful than Masters Sunday, though.
And no lead is safe at a major championship. Remember that Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney had three-shot leads at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, respectively, only to shoot a combined 163 (82-81) in their final rounds.
3. Nowhere to hide: McIlroy has a four-shot lead, but that lead may seem smaller with four players – Cabrera, K.J. Choi, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Day – sitting in second.
Choi (South Korea) and Day (Australia) are trying to become their countries’ first Masters champion. Schwartzel, a South African, is trying to win on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player’s first Masters title.
“I’ll take it even if it wasn’t his anniversary,” Schwartzel said.
Player’s 1961 victory also was the first by an international player. Fitting then that the top seven on the leaderboard are international players. It’s the first time in Masters history that there are no Americans in the top five through 54 holes.
4. Don’t call it a comeback: Dating to 1991 - with the exception of Zach Johnson (T-4) in 2007 - the Masters champion has been ranked no lower than T-2 following 54 holes. Here’s a list of notable players looking to break that trend:
T-6. Adam Scott, -7
T-6. Luke Donald, -7
T-9. Bubba Watson, -5
T-9. Fred Couples, -5
T-9. Geoff Ogilvy, -5
T-9. Tiger Woods, -5
5. The heat is on: It'll be another hot and humid day here at Augusta National for the Masters' final round. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-80s when McIlroy and Cabrera tee off at 2:40 p.m., and will remain there throughout the afternoon. It will still be 86 degrees at 6 p.m., just as the leaders should be coming out of Amen Corner.