AUGUSTA, Ga. — The scoring Saturday during the third round of the 2018 Masters wasn’t merely impressive. It was in some ways historic.
The field averaged under par—71.264, to be exact—marking the second-lowest third-round scoring average in the history of the Masters, behind the mark of 70.979 set in 1986. It also marked the 11th time in tournament history the average was below par for the third round, with each of the previous 10 coming before the course was lengthened from 6,985 yards in 2002.
“The fire was just taken out of the greens a little bit,” said Rory McIlroy, who shot a 65, one of three to record the day’s low number. “The greens were probably a foot slower than they were yesterday, and that made all the difference.”
McIlroy also cited an up tee on the par-3 fourth as well as favorable winds off the tee on the normally difficult 10th and 11th holes as having an effect on the scoring as well. The hole locations were more charitable than during the opening rounds as well.
In the aggregate these, factors had quite the impact. Over the first two rounds, just 36 players broke par out of the 174 rounds played. Saturday, 26 of 53 players broke par and another 11 equaled it. Only three players in the top 20 failed to find red numbers.
Breaking down the scoring even further, the field produced eight eagles and 173 birdies against 127 bogeys, 10 doubles bogeys and a lone “other” (courtesy of Phil Mickelson’s triple-bogey 7 on the first hole when he whiffed from under the trees). Nine of the individual holes played under par and one—the par-4 10th—played dead even.
After two rounds in which the course put up a significant challenge, producing an average of more than 74 for the two rounds, this was a full-out assault on par. The birdies were flying, and the players knew it as the rain did little to dampen the famous roars that resound throughout the course for stellar play.
“I believe that someone like me going ahead and shooting a low score, it shows to the people behind that it can be done,” said Jon Rahm, who rebounded from an opening 75 with rounds of 68 and 65. “I feel like the [wetness] made us be just a bit more aggressive, and the fact a couple of us started out strong helped out a lot.”
It particularly helped those at the top of the leader board. Patrick Reed had four birdies and a pair of eagles (after having just one in his entire Masters career before Saturday). McIlroy, Rickie Fowler (who had his first bogey-free round at the Masters) and Rahm each had five birdies and an eagle. Tommy Fleetwood carded seven birdies—including five in row. Bubba Watson did him one better with eight birdies. McIlroy, Fowler and Rahm each shot 65. And so it went. It was a day when merely being under par wasn’t going to be good enough. Justin Thomas shot 70, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson 71—and all are nine shots or more in arrears.
Not bad golf, but not good enough on a day that was historic.