Because an odd number of players made the cut, he played with a non-competitive marker — a player not in the field but there to provide the proper pace — named Jeff Knox, a longtime Augusta National member who owns the course record from the members’ tees, a 61.
Because the 49-year-old Knox is so good, a potentially awkward experience felt normal.
“It would have been different had it been someone that wasn’t up to Jeff’s caliber,” McIlroy said. “But he played just like he should be playing in the Masters.”
The results Saturday: McIlroy birdied three of the last four holes to shoot 71, getting him to 3 over for the tournament. But Knox went one better, unofficially carding a 70.
McIlroy’s Masters career is a bit difficult to figure out. After three rounds here, he stands tied for 24th. His best finish in his five previous appearances at Augusta National was a tie for 15th in 2011 — the tournament he led after three rounds before imploding with a closing 80. In each of his past five Masters, he has had one round of 77 or worse.
“I don’t know what it is,” McIlroy said. “I seem to throw in a high number every year. . . . It’s just turning those 77s and the high ones into 72s or 73s. That’s the real key for me around here.”
Perhaps the most surprising development of Saturday’s round was that defending champion Adam Scott did not remain in contention, needing 40 on the front nine en route to a 76 that left him 1 over, six shots behind leaders Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth. He began his day with a drive into a fairway bunker that led to a three-putt bogey, setting the tone.
But it got bad at the par-3 fourth, a devilish hole that has cost several players this week. Scott’s tee shot went through the green, and he hit what looked to be a brilliant pitch, one that curled just inches from the hole. The green, though, was so fast by that point in the afternoon that the ball didn’t stop until it was on the fringe. From there, Scott lipped out a three-footer for bogey.
The end result was Scott’s worst round at the Masters since he shot 76 in the final round of the 2008 event. . . .
Brandt Snedeker, who has a reputation as an exceptional putter, five-putted the fourth green Saturday — from about eight feet. Snedeker had hit a bunker shot above the hole, and his first putt slipped down to the right, running about six feet by. He ran his third putt three feet past, then knocked that one a good 12 feet by before lagging one up and tapping in for a quadruple bogey 7 that led to an 80. . . .
Miguel Angel Jimenez, the ponytailed, 50-year-old Spaniard, has played 14 previous Masters and never truly been in contention after three rounds. After a second-round 76, there was no indication he would be this year.
But Saturday, he played not only his best round at Augusta National, but the lowest round of this tournament, a 66 that took him from 3 over to start the day to 3 under at the end of it, three back.
“Sometimes you feel that good that you want to see the things happen, the birdies coming before you hit the shot,” Jimenez said. “Then when you get a little bit impatient, it can happen like that. That’s what happened yesterday.”