The Masters That Never Was, Part VII: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy lead, setting up epic Sunday
Ed. note: This is the seventh installment of The Masters That Never Was, a fictional account of how the Masters Tournament might have played out had it been conducted this week at Augusta National Golf Club.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — As the old saw goes, the Masters doesn’t begin until the front nine on Saturday. This year’s third round got off to a rip-roaring start, as eagles and double-bogies were plentiful on the usually staid outward nine. The historic winds of Friday left Augusta as a firm, fast, fiery test, and the green jackets added to the intrigue with a series of tantalizing risk-reward pin positions.
“It was like playing on a knife’s edge,” said Rory McIlroy, who eagled the second, third and eighth holes but double-bogied Nos. 1 and 9. “You often hear people say around here one yard can be the difference between success and failure. Today it felt more like one foot.”
The start to Tiger Woods’ round was highly eventful, as he shot 32 on the front nine without making a single par. “Sounded like Sunday roars out there,” Woods said afterward. “You know the back nine is going to give and it’s going to take, but that front nine was pretty wild. A lot was happening all at once, with guys flying up and down the leaderboard. It felt like we were running the 100 meters in Tokyo.” Woods said he planned to take his children and girlfriend to the Summer Games right after the British Open at Royal St. George’s.
At day’s end, Woods (69) and McIlroy (67) shared the lead at 7-under, one stroke ahead of Phil Mickelson (63), Jordan Spieth (68) and Brooks Koepka (69). “I got up early, did my coffee procedure and I just felt really fresh and clean and that’s how I played,” Mickelson said. Tied for sixth, two strokes off the lead, were Bryson DeChambeau (66), Fred Couples (67), Patrick Reed (69) and Dustin Johnson (70). Second round co-leader Mike Weir shot 88.
Johnson was atop the leaderboard standing in the 15th fairway. After a 412-yard drive, he faced just a little wedge shot to set up another eagle attempt. As he addressed his ball, a man in the gallery shouted, “Try doing that with persimmon and balata, DJ!”
Johnson stepped away from the ball and addressed the spectator: “Bro, do we have beef?”
The man would later be identified as Yegor Mondelslovinavich, a 41-year-old native of Ukraine who had been arrested earlier in the week when he threatened a security guard on Magnolia Lane with a vintage 1-iron. He had been released on bail Friday afternoon. It was not immediately clear how he gained access to the course.
Mondelslovinavich said nothing in reply to Johnson, and the bearded golfer returned to the shot at hand. But as he addressed the ball again, the spectator tore off his clothes, revealing a lime-green singlet, a look first popularized by the actor Sacha Baron Cohen in the movie “Borat.” Mondelslovinavich ran toward Johnson while unspooling a flag on which he had written:
“Roll back the ball!
“Unchecked distance gains are killing the game!”
Woods, Johnson’s playing partner, sprinted across the fairway and staggered Mondelslovinavich with a flying karate kick. The protestor stumbled forward into the pond fronting the 15th green, scattering a family of turtles sunbathing on the bank. Within moments, a team of Navy SEALs in an amphibious craft had captured Mondelslovinavich and removed him from the grounds. There were still ripples in the pond when Johnson played his ensuing shot, a stubbed wedge that one-hopped into the hazard. He went on to make a double bogey. “I see plenty of thongs while boating with Paulina,” Johnson said afterward. “But this was totally different. It had a deleterious effect on my equanimity.”
Woods declined to speak with reporters after the round. In an exclusive phone interview with GOLF.com arranged by his publicist, Hope Hicks, Woods said, “The guy seemed harmless, but you never know. I felt like it was my duty to protect DJ. I just fell back on my kill house training and some of the techniques Pops taught me which were handed down by Lt. Col. Phong.”
As for his pursuit of a second straight green jacket, Woods said, “It was a little disappointing not to clean up some of the opportunities on the back nine. My back tightened up a little bit after the incident on 15 so I was just happy to get in the house with a piece of the lead. Overall, I feel good. I controlled my spin and traj, and on the greens I’m seeing my start-lines. As firm as this golf course is, Sunday is going to be a helluva test.”
Woods will play in the final pairing alongside McIlroy, who is seeking the elusive final piece to the career Grand Slam and a fifth major championship victory, which would tie him with the deity of European golf, Seve Ballesteros. In an extraordinary 94-minute press conference following his round, McIlroy was brutally candid about how much he has been haunted by a decade of Masters disasters.
“Ever since 2011, I’ve had this dream where I have hit my drive on 10 inside one of those cabins down the left side,” he said. “Clifford Roberts is there, and he refuses to give me a drop. I’m trying to play my shot, but I can’t make a backswing because my ball is up against a green plaid settee. I keep trying to swing, but I can’t. Eventually I would wake up screaming.”
McIlroy says the nightmares didn’t stop until two months ago, when, following a disappointing showing at the WGC-Mexico City, he spent four nights trekking through the Zacatecas desert with a Huichol shaman. “I’m hoping a different kind of dream will come true tomorrow,” McIlroy said.
When relayed this comment, Woods couldn’t quite suppress a chuckle. “Everyone talks about winning the Masters,” Woods said. “But talk doesn’t get it done. You have to execute the golf shots. I’m planning on doing exactly that tomorrow.”
The Round 4 recap from The Masters That Never Was will be published on GOLF.com on Sunday evening.
To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.