A high-handicapper named Michel de Nostredame once said trying to predict the outcome of the Masters at the halfway stage is a mug’s game. It’s a major championship, the most tension-packed of all, played on a golf course with a history of turning the most cold-blooded competitor into a quivering wreck. Anything can happen down Georgia way, and it often does.
Of course, our old pal Nostradamus was talking before the invention of advanced sporting statistics, whereby every cough, spit, drive, chip and putt of the first two rounds at Augusta National is fed into the mincer in the hope that it will somehow shed light on what is about to unfold over the closing two days.
McIlroy hasn’t got a prayer
Needless to say, as Bubba Watson went to sleep last night on a three-shot lead over the field the statistical eggheads were hard at work crunching numbers from the last 30 years.
The results are in and it is fair to say they don’t look good for the vast majority of the 51 players who remain, beginning with Rory McIlroy.
“It will require something very special indeed,’’ the pre-tournament favourite said after a second-round 77 left him 11 shots behind the leader as he just made the cut.
What the record books tell us
Forget special. Try miraculous. Try unprecedented. Try calling Kate Upton (above) and asking her for a date. McIlroy will tee off first in Saturday’s third round with a ‘marker’ – an Augusta National member – for company. Not to belittle Holywood’s boy genius but he has about as much chance of winning this as his marker. Next year maybe.
History delivers a depressing verdict, too, on another 36 players who now find themselves more than six shots adrift. Jackie Burke did come back from eight shots behind at the halfway point to win in 1956.
But in the last 30 years, the ‘cut off’ number for the hopefuls in pursuit has been six shots – Langer (1985), Nicklaus (86), Tiger (2005) and Schwartzel (2011) all clawed back a deficit of half-a-dozen shots to win.
- That calculation leaves us with 14 contenders this time round.
Of those, Watson is better placed than anyone else, right? After all, it is better to have a three-shot lead after 36 holes than not to have a three-shot lead. That’s what common sense tells us. Alas for Bubba the record book tells us something else.
- Click on the arrows above for a tour of Augusta National. What holes are Amen corner? They are 11 through 13 in the above interactive graphic.
Who your money should be on…
In the last 30 Masters just six halfway leaders have gone on to the win. Watson has the experience of his 2012 victory to comfort him amid the tumult of Saturday afternoon but he will surely not be immune to the pressures that have ended the hopes of the two dozen players who found themselves in the same position he found himself last night. It is human nature. It is history.
It is also a matter of record that in 18 of those 30 tournaments the player who eventually won on Sunday afternoon started his Saturday as a close pursuer rather than the man being pursued. At the halfway stage those 18 eventual winners were in second or third or fourth or fifth place – close enough to fuel dreams of glory but far enough away to escape the grinding pressure of being the man to beat.
So far Watson has looked capable of withstanding such pressure. But should he falter he might note – and you should note, too – the men giving closest chase number amongst the best in the world on current form. Thomas Bjorn, Jordan Spieth and defending champion Adam Scott (pictured top) are all tied for third place as Saturday’s proceedings get underway. It does not require a leap of imagination – or a rewriting of the record books – to picture any of those three wearing the green jacket on Sunday night.