Since the Masters began in 1934, there’s something that has never happened during the tournament. Something that many people likely will find difficult to believe, but it’s true. Since the first time it was played in 1934, 6,467 golfers have teed it up and 4,159 of them have played all four rounds of the tournament.
Not one of them, however, has shot four rounds in the 60s in one Masters.
The course that made going low in major-championship golf fashionable has also been remarkably stingy in doing so for four straight tournament rounds. How miserly is Augusta? Consider that it has happened on 40 occasions in the other three majors: 27 times at the PGA Championship, 10 times at the Open Championship and even three times in the U.S. Open, generally considered the stingiest major in terms of rounds in relation to par.
In fact, there’s not another event on the PGA Tour calendar (discounting the one-year-old CJ Cup at Nine Bridges) where shooting four sub-70 rounds has not occurred, including 30 events last season. Counted among those were all four of the FedEx Cup events.
But not at the Masters. It’s 83 years and running. Consider that even some of the longest droughts in sports haven’t lasted that long. The Cleveland Indians have been without a World Series title for 68 years; the Detroit Lions have gone 59 years without an NFL title. Lengthy, to be sure, but nowhere near the mark Augusta National is putting up.
Not that there haven’t been some close calls. Forty times in Masters history has a player shot three rounds in the 60s, a feat accomplished by 33 different golfers. Included among them is Phil Mickelson, who has done it four separate occasions.
So why going 4-for-4 so dang impossible?
For starters, Augusta National is a par 72, which means that at minimum you need to shoot 12 under par for the tournament. That’s only happened 27 times in Masters history. So just from that logistical standpoint, it’s no easy task.
Meanwhile, shooting your first three rounds in the 60s means you’re likely in contention to win the title, and with that comes the pressure associated with a Masters Sunday.
Twelve times players had a chance heading into the final round to conquer golf’s version of Mount Everest. Some failed epicly; Craig Parry’s 78 in 1992 and Ed Sneed’s 76 in 1979 being the biggest breakdowns. Other times, a player simply wants to protect his lead and avoid doing something that could lead to disaster. Six eventual champions came into the final round with a chance to break 70 each day, but securing a green jacket meant more than another line in the record book. A 74 was good enough for Gary Player in 1961, and a 75 worked for Trevor Immelman in 2008.
A trio of players have come ever-so-close, shooting 70 in the final round. Arnold Palmer needed a final-nine 34 in 1964, and after birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 he was just one shy as he played the final holes. A 71st-hole bogey ended his hopes, although Palmer made birdie at the last and walked off with his fourth green jacket in seven years.
Fred Couples in 1992 had a shot at it as well. Couples also turned in 35 in the fourth round and played a clean back nine, but managed just one birdie and failed to convert on either of the par 5s. Like Palmer, however, Couples was wearing green before day’s end.
There was no such consolation for Phil Mickelson in 2001. Chasing Tiger Woods, who was going after the “Tiger Slam,” Lefty was one shot in arrears coming to 16. But his 7-iron shot hung up on the ridge, and he raced his putt past the hole and missed coming back for a deflating bogey.
“Sixteen was the real killer,” Mickelson said.
In more ways than one. Mickelson parred the final two holes for a 70 to come up three short of Woods and a single shot short of making history.
Which just puts him alongside those 6,466 other Masters participants.