Not Tiger Woods, not Jack Nicklaus: An 84-year Masters record may finally fall

It stands, for now, as one of the most unlikely, if daunting, records in golf — no one, in the now 84-year history of the Masters, has ever broken 70 in all four rounds of a given year.

Jack Nicklaus won here six times and never did it. Tiger Woods (1997) and Jordan Spieth (2015) each finished 18 under and didn’t do it. No one has managed it while winning, or not.

This is a stingy tournament, one that has survived modern technology and changes in strategy to cling proudly to its history of befuddling, at least a little, everyone.

This being 2020, though ...

There are still two (plus) rounds to go this weekend, but based on the results thus far, and the way the course plays in the cool, damp fall environment, the chances of the record finally falling is greater than perhaps it’s ever been.

“With these conditions, you have … to be aggressive,” Woods said. “There’s no reason why you can’t fire at a lot of the flags.”

As of the end of play on Friday, three players — Abraham Ancer, Cameron Smith and Justin Thomas — have shot in the 60s in their first two complete rounds. They lead the tournament at 9 under, joined by Dustin Johnson, who got there via a 65-70.

A detail of a leaderboard during the second round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.
Red numbers were everywhere on the Masters leaderboard during Round 2. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As many as six to eight more players could join them in the sub-70 club entering the weekend. Due to a weather delay Thursday and darkness that comes from playing this event in November for the first time ever, a slew of players were unable to finish their second round on Friday. They’ll finish early Saturday.

That includes a dozen golfers who shot in the 60s in Round 1. Three of them, Jon Rahm (-5 for the day), Hideki Matsuyama (-4) and Louis Oosthuizen (-3) are all on pace; they’d need only to par in their remaining second holes when play resumes on Saturday morning.

Three others would only need to finish 1 or 2 under to join them.

While six or eight golfers might not sound like much, it is when it comes to this record.

In the last 20 Masters, just 18 players have broken 70 in both the first and second round. During that period, only once have more than two done so. Nine times during that stretch, no one accomplished it.

Just six players, most recently 2018 champion Patrick Reed, strung together three rounds in the 60s before hitting 70 or more on Sunday.

This is a record that’s rarely even challenged.

There’s more, though. This is, of course, not a normal Masters. As such, this isn’t the case of a lot of guys just getting hot. The course is hot because the weather and ground conditions of November have proven quite different than the traditional April date.

The turf, especially the greens, have been “so soft,” according to Justin Thomas. A heavy rain Thursday morning only aided in that. There’s also been minimal wind.

It’s why scores are so low. The way players were attacking the pin and thudding bombs onto the green, you’d think this had been renamed the Greater Augusta Open.

And with cool temperatures (and even a chance of rain on Sunday), that is unlikely to change dramatically.

“With the soft conditions, it’s easier to keep the ball on the greens,” Dustin Johnson said on ESPN. “Obviously, the conditions are going to stay relatively the same, they are going to stay soft so you need to be aggressive.”

Augusta National Golf Club sees all those red scores. There is no question they are not pleased. The record has taken on a life of its own after all these decades and there is pride in the concept that the same score Byron Nelson (-5 in 1937) or Ben Hogan (-8 in 1951) shot to win here carries over to modern times (even if the course has been lengthened and altered).

So the club is expected to do what it can to add teeth to the course.

“You’ve got to think Augusta National is going to get this place going this weekend,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the day, they can’t do anything about the weather.”

They can’t. This is what can happen when a pandemic pushes your historic event back seven months. The hallowed record may fall, of course, but it would come with a fall asterisk.

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