Masters 2019: Why making the 36-hole cut Friday can make for a big Sunday
AUGUSTA, Ga. — For most Masters competitors, Thursday starts with thoughts of a glorious Sunday afternoon, complete with a walk up 18 to an adoring crowd greeting them as a Masters champion. By Friday, that goal often has been shifted to simply playing on Sunday as making the 36-hole cut becomes the objective.
Instituted at the Masters in 1957, the 36-hole cut has undergone a few changes over the years. Originally the low 40 and ties, it shifted in 1962 to the low 44 and ties, plus those within 10 strokes of the leader after 36 holes. In 2013, that number was expanded to the low 50 plus ties, along with keeping the 10-stroke rule.
Come Friday afternoon, the cut line becomes front of mind for players on or near it, and it can move with a single stroke of a single player. In 2013, for example, it appeared the 10-stroke rule would allow those at five over par to play the weekend. Leader Jason Day, playing in one of the final groups, parred the par-5 15th and stood at five under par, allowing nine players—including reigning U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson and former U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell—to think they were in if Day simply parred in. Yet just after 7 p.m., Day rolled in a birdie putt on the par-3 16th, then parred in to send all of them packing.
As for some history, the lowest cut line has been one-over-par 145, done six times, most recently in 2011. The all-time high is 154—a full 10 strokes over par—in 1982. The average since it was put into effect in 1957 is 148.55. Since the latest cut rule was instituted in 2013, the fewest to play the weekend was 51 in 2014 and the most 61 in 2013. Last year 53 players made it to Saturday and Sunday. Tiger Woods has the longest current streak at 19, with Justin Rose next at 13. Jack Nicklaus has the most cuts made ever at the Masters with 37.
But unlike Nicklaus and Woods, who own 10 green jackets between them, those sneaking into the weekend on the number should harbor no delusions of slipping on the green jacket come Sunday. The player furthest to come back and win was Bernhard Langer, who was T-25 in 1985 before going 68-68 to take his first of two Masters titles. But the German was not in danger of missing the cut. His 146 after 36 holes was four strokes inside that year’s cut line of 150.
That’s not to say, however, that there haven’t been some impressive dashes up the leader board, leading to significant paychecks, return invitations and some crystal to cherish. In fact, eight times since 2000 a player has made the cut on the number and rode a hot weekend to a top-10 finish.
Among the rallies from the back of the pack was Paul Casey—who will need another one to make the cut this year after an opening 81—who was first out with marker Jeff Knox on Saturday after playing his final five holes Friday one under par to make it on the 149 number. Casey then went to work on the weekend, threatening the tournament record of 63 on Sunday before finishing with a 65 and a T-15.
“It shows you anything can happen in golf,” Casey said afterward. “You think you just scrape through the cut and [then you] kind of pop up on the leader board, kind of cool. It turned out to be one of my more enjoyable experiences because of what happened on the weekend.”
Others to enjoy a weekend renaissance were Rory McIlroy, who made it at 148 in 2014 and soared to T-8. Thorbjorn Olesen opened with a 78 the previous year but shot 70 to also make the cut at 148, then went 68-68 to finish T-6. That didn’t get a lifetime exemption as a winner, but it was good enough to earn an invite for the following year. The same for Steve Flesch in 2009, who backed up 71-74 with 68-67 to finish T-6 and garner a crystal vase for the day’s low score in round three and a pair of crystal goblets for an eagle on the second hole in the fourth round.
Then there’s Retief Goosen, who proved that winning is not out of the realm of possibility, even when starting 10 shots back at the halfway point. In cold, blustery conditions Goosen shot 76-76, including a double-bogey 6 at the last on Friday to hit the 152 number. But a 70-69 finish (the best score on Sunday and tied for low on Saturday) brought the two-time U.S. Open winner all the way up to second place, just two shots behind winner Zach Johnson. Had Goosen simply birdied the two second-nine par 5s instead of parring them, he would have tied Johnson and forced a playoff.
It’s why on Friday, Sunday already is on the player’s minds.