- The 2019 Masters is setting up for one of the best finishes in tournament history. With Tiger Woods headlining a loaded leaderboard, golf fans are in for a treat.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — There is no scene quite like it: Tiger Woods, in contention, on Sunday, at the Masters.
We haven’t seen it since 2011, and we thought we’d never see it again. But we will, because Woods shot a five-under 67 to get to 11-under for the tournament. He enters Sunday’s final round in a tie for second with Tony Finau, and two behind leader Francesco Molinari. The three will be paired together in the final round.
Yes, threesomes—in an attempt to squeeze the final round in before gnarly thunderstorms, the Masters will break tradition by having players go off in threesomes, off both tees, much earlier in the day than normal. If you want to see the best show in golf, adjust your alarms accordingly.
Once you do wake up, you’ll be treated to what is sure to be a fantastic day of golf. How could it not be? This leaderboard is one huge name after another; the top seven features five major champions, one of the game’s brightest emerging stars (Finau) and the closest thing this gentlemanly game has to a WWE heel (Ian Poulter).
Here are five key questions ahead of Sunday's early start, the answers to which will go a long way toward determining who slips on the green jacket…way earlier than normal.
Can Tiger get off to a hot start?
Francesco Molinari looks the furthest thing from someone who would wilt on Sunday—more on that in a second—so Tiger will probably have to shoot something in the mid-60s tomorrow. That task would be made much easier if he can finally take advantage of Augusta’s relatively benign opening holes.
Woods has birdied the par-5 No. 2 just once, on Thursday, and has made par on No. 3, the shortest par 4 on the course, all three days. And then there’s the lengthened No. 5, which has been Tiger’s kryptonite this week. Now measuring 495 yards from the tournament tee, it is absolutely imperative to keep the tee shot right of the two steep-faced bunkers that guard the left side of the fairway. Hitting it in them forces a layup, and Tiger has done exactly that all three days, and failed to get up-and-down for par all three days.
I’ll save you the math: he is a combined one-over par on the first five holes from Augusta and 12-under on Nos. 6-18. Getting off to a hot start tomorrow would send this place into a frenzy, which probably won’t affect the stoic Molinari too much…but it might, and it would definitely give Tiger a bunch of confidence before he heads to the birdie-friendly back nine.
Is Francesco Molinari a human?
The golf world was struck by just how machine-like Molinari was in winning last year’s British Open. He didn’t make a bogey all weekend on a brutally firm and fast Carnoustie course, and he didn’t blink while in the same group as Tiger, who briefly took the lead on Sunday.
Then he wowed us again at the Ryder Cup, where his ruthlessly consistent ball striking and made-in-heaven pairing with Tommy Fleetwood led to his becoming the first European player to go 5-0-0.
He’s back at it again this week. Molinari’s only bogey of the entire week—the week!—came at No. 11 on Thursday. His golf swing, beautiful in its simplicity, is as grooved as can be. Every shot seems to be going right where he’s looking. And he’s holing the 5-10 footers that used to give him trouble earlier in his career. This Molinari 2.0, which we’ve seen for the past year or so, looks poised to win multiple majors. But he’s never held a 54-hole lead at a major, let alone the Masters. Will he show signs of mortality tomorrow, alongside Tiger, when more people will be watching him then ever before, or will he continue to hit perfect shot after perfect shot?
Will we see the traditional Sunday pins?
It’s been a rainy week in eastern Georgia, which has produced an atypically soft Augusta National. Scoring has been solid all week, but it reached another level on Saturday. A historic level—there were 20 rounds in the 60s on Saturday, tying the all-time record (previously set in the second round of 1995). There were also three 64s, posted by Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau and Webb Simpson.
There’s light rain forecasted overnight, which would only soften this place up more. So, will we see those familiar Sunday pins? The one below the slope on No. 16, the front left one on No. 18…those and so many others beg for birdies. It’s great television, having the world’s best players fire at pins on the game’s biggest stage. But if they stick with those, there’s a legitimate chance a player could break the course record of 63. We’ll have to wait to see if the tournament committee changes things up tomorrow, given how soft it will be yet again.
Is Tony Finau ready for this?
Finau had a terrific 2017-18 season: in 25 starts, he posted 19 top-25s, 11 top-10s and three second-place finishes. That, combined with his towering figure and ear-to-ear smile, has led to him becoming a borderline household name. But here’s the thing: he only has one PGA Tour victory, and it came at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open.
The 29-year-old has a world-class game, that much is for sure, and he clearly feels comfortable around this place. Remember last year? You know, when he twisted his ankle while celebrating a hole-in-one at the par 3 contest…then finished top 10 on an ankle swollen to the size of a softball? He’s so incredibly long off the tee that Augusta National is really a par 68 for him, and his short game is deceptively good.
All this to say, he’s absolutely good enough to win the Masters. But there will be pressure tomorrow. He’s playing in the final group with his icon—his generation’s icon—at Augusta National. The moment doesn’t get much bigger, and he doesn’t have much experience closing tournaments out.
Will someone come out of nowhere?
Masters winners tend to come from the final couple of groups, but big comebacks are hardly unprecedented. Jack Burke erased an eight-shot deficit to win in 1956, and Gary Player did the same with a final-round 64 in 1978. Just three years ago, Danny Willett entered the final round five back and won the tournament.
It’s going to be especially hard this year, for two reasons. First, the golf course isn’t playing difficult, so there’s not a huge chance that a bunch of contenders shoot over par. And secondly, the players who are near the top are absolutely world-class. There are no flukes there. But anything can happen at this place, where disaster lurks around any corner. Can anyone from, say, the group at –8 pull it off? Louis Oosthuizen? Xander Schauffele? How about Rickie Fowler, at –7? Maybe Adam Scott can finally pair his godly ball–striking with a hot putter?
A 63 could well be out there tomorrow. We won't have to wait long to find out.