Comment: Augusta tempts but only rarely yieldsMarch 15, 2016 The Masters
The world's best queued up to attack the receptive Georgia venue in 2015 but ultimately made little progress
On Day One, the best score was Jordan Spieth’s 64. On Friday it was a couple of 66s and Saturday’s 67 was as low as it got.
Even though Augusta National gives up more eagles and birdies than your average Major championship course, it is also pretty good at snatching the shots back off you again quickly.
So it was when just about all of the best players in the world took a run-up at Spieth in an attempt to eat into his lead.
Yet at the end, bar some entertaining jostling for position, we were pretty much back where we started.
That’s not to say it was a routine day of Major action. How could it have been, with the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Adam Scott in the chasing pack?
It was just that their efforts ultimately seemed to have minimal effect on their quarry, Young Master Spieth, who became Spieth the Young Masters champion at the end of it all.
Supposedly, the way you construct a good score round here is to survive on the more demanding front nine before taking full advantage of the shorter par 5s and 3s coming in. But while it is possible to take maximum benefit from these holes – just ask Johnson, who eagled both the 5s on the back nine on Friday – it is also rarer than you might think.
On Saturday we saw exceptional front nines from McIlroy (32), Woods (32) and Mickelson (32) followed by inward halves of 36, 36 and 35.
How different things would look had one or more of them been able to post a 64 or 65, which looked entirely possible at the halfway points.
All three are champions and will therefore be frustrated at what they will perceive as a missed opportunity. But of the trio, surely it was Tiger who had the most to be pleased about.
He entered the week with many expecting him to be the laughing stock of the Masters, following his disastrous appearances at his own event before Christmas and at Torrey Pines and Phoenix afterwards.
The height of expectation was making the weekend, reasonable opinion insisted.
But surely a score in the low-to-mid-60s is too much to ask here.
As for Rory, he had not quite been at his best and still cannot be said to have solved the puzzles of Augusta and the unique challenges of preparing for the opening Major of the season with its long lead-in.
He looked like he couldn’t quite understand why he doesn’t play the par 5s in six under and shoot 64 round here any time he wants to.
The reality of constructing a good score at Augusta is actually more prosaic than is commonly believed. Edge your way along restricting mistakes to a minimum and collect low-risk birdies at the par 5s whenever possible. That’s what Spieth alone managed to do over the first three days and it is why he took a substantial lead into the final round.
The chasing pack had little choice but to attack at every opportunity, and if anyone can wrest a 64 out of Augusta it is surely Rory, Phil or Tiger.
But it didn’t happen because in trying to push for birdies and eagles a mistake is inevitable and will lead to a momentum-crushing bogey – or worse.
At which point it was over to Spieth, who showed few signs of crumbling, to do exactly what he had been for the last three days.
But it is becoming difficult to envisage anything else.