Why a rain delay at the Masters changed the entire tournament
AUGUSTA, Ga. — If not for the rain, Moving Day at the Masters might never have gotten going.
As storm clouds descended upon central Georgia Saturday, things ground to a screeching halt on the grounds of Augusta National. Just as he did on Thursday and Friday, Justin Rose clung to a narrow lead. The top of the leaderboard — filled with names like Leishman, Zalatoris, Spieth and Thomas — had hardly changed order.
Then, around 4 p.m. local time, the rain came. Play stopped. Golfers retreated to the clubhouse.
By the time play resumed at 5:15 local time, the rain had stopped, the crowds had thinned and the wind had died. Patrons could be heard shuffling about the rough and pine straw. Caddie conversations were audible to audiences of a few dozen. Stillness reigned.
The course seemed different, too. The greens were slower and, for the first time all week, showed serious give. The fairways and rough snatched tee balls in awkward positions. And the storm seemed to zap the energy from the air, leaving many of the most vulnerable pins unguarded.
The air hung particularly heavy on the 10th hole, where Jordan Spieth’s tee shot came to rest awkwardly on a downslope, and where Spieth’s approach shot came up short of the elevated green.
“God!” Spieth unknowingly muttered to a hundred or so patrons. “There’s no way that wasn’t enough club.”
When he chipped in for birdie a few minutes later, the same gallery shattered the silence.
Even though they’d only halted play for just over an hour, the course that greeted golfers when they returned played totally different.
“The wind kind of died down right when we first got back out there,” Corey Conners said. “The ball wasn’t quite traveling as far. I hit an extra club in my approach shot onto 13. Wasn’t anticipating it being further into the green than it ended up being, so I would say the ball maybe wasn’t quite traveling as far.”
Conners made just one birdie after the restart, which felt distinctly lower than his competition. With shifting conditions, a window of opportunity had opened for the first time all week.
That didn’t mean the restart was easy for everyone. At No. 13, Justin Thomas watched his green jacket hopes disappear. After a miraculous, boomerang iron shot from the pine straw saved him from trouble in the trees, Thomas faced a 50-yard pitch shot to a front pin. He promptly chunked it, sending the ball rolling off the front of the green and into Rae’s Creek. A bladed chip and three putts later, Thomas walked away with a triple-bogey 8.
“I was playing great before the delay, and then I didn’t afterward,” Thomas said. “I mean, it’s just a shame. I was really playing well. The golf course was playing very difficult and I just couldn’t adjust to the green speeds when I got back out.”
Thomas’s numbers around the greens matched his post-round sentiment. He finished the day at one under thanks in part to a trio of three-putts, tripling his output in that category from the previous 36 holes.
“I mean, from what [the greens] were, they were getting dry, they were getting close to what they were Thursday, but again, that’s not an excuse,” he said. “I had time to hit putts before I went out. I just didn’t adjust accordingly. But yeah, it just sucks to shoot yourself pretty much out of it in a 10-hole stretch.”
Things looked far easier in the pairing of Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama. Those two played the final eight holes after the restart in a combined nine under, including a pair of eagles on the par-5 15th.
“Just softer — softer and slower,” Schauffele said. “The tricky part was probably hitting your putts hard enough. I think Hideki kind of was an example of that on 13 [where Matsuyama three-putted for par]. Hit a great iron shot in there. Normally you’d kind of just touch your putt, it gets feeding down that hill and it’s an easy two-putt. Now you’re sort of looking down at the creek there and you have to hit your putt hard coming down the hill. It was a challenge in a different way.”
Matsuyama shot six under during that stretch, surging into the 54-hole lead by four strokes.
“Right before the rain delay, I probably hit the worst shot I’ve hit this week,” Matsuyama said. “And during the rain delay, I just figured, I can’t hit anything worse than that. And so maybe it relieved some pressure, I don’t know, but I did hit it well coming in after the delay.”
Whether or not it was as simple as he made it sound, Matsuyama looked and played with particular comfort his final few holes. His dynamic with Schauffele helped, too; Xander used his cursory knowledge of Japanese to joke with Hideki throughout the round. That’s good news, since they’ll play together again in Sunday’s final pairing.
There’s just one piece of Saturday’s magic that will be hard to replicate: Sunday’s forecast is clear. That means if Matsuyama earns his first major championship title, he’ll do so without help from another rain delay.