By Dan Wiederer Chicago Tribune
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Search long and hard through the Masters leaderboard and the tournament’s agate and you still won’t find the one-shot victory Jeff Knox claimed over his Saturday morning playing partner, Rory McIlroy.
The latter, the world’s ninth-ranked player, shot a 1-under 71. Knox, an Augusta National member and a non-competing marker sent out to pace McIlroy, carded a 2-under 70.
“I thought he was going to be nice and three-putt the last and we’d have a half,” McIlroy said. “But he beat me by one. He obviously knows this place so well and gets it lined. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does around here. He was really impressive. I was thinking of maybe getting him to read a few of my putts out there.”
Fifty-one players made the 36-hole cut Friday. And as the last man in at 4 over, McIlroy was the odd man out when Saturday’s pairings were mapped out. That left him with a 10:15 a.m. tee time locally and a date with Knox, an accomplished member here who has enjoyed the role of non-competing marker at the Masters before.
The twosome cruised through their Saturday round in three hours.
Oddly, club officials asked Knox not to speak with reporters after his round. But McIlroy offered plenty of praise.
“He played really well,” McIlroy said. “And he couldn’t have been more helpful. … He played just like he should be playing in the Masters.”
For what it’s worth, McIlroy’s third round was a bit erratic. He turned at 37, then rallied with three birdies in his final four holes to get under par for the round.
He will start Sunday at 3 over for the tournament with a goal to get back under par for the tournament by day’s end and a hope to better his best Masters finish, a tie for 15thin 2011 after he led the tournament after each of the first three rounds.
“My best finish here is 15th, which really isn’t anything to shout about,” McIlroy said. “So it’d be nice to play well (Sunday), shoot something in the mid- to low-60s and maybe finish the week in red figures. I think a good goal would be to have my best ever finish at Augusta and go from there. It wouldn’t be the week I would have wanted from the start. But after the way the last few days went, it wouldn’t be a bad way to finish the week.”
McIlroy also offered a scouting report on the Day 3 set-up for the afternoon players. Leader Bubba Watson and partner John Senden are set to be the last group out this afternoon at 1:45 p.m. Central time. Others who began Saturday in the top 10 include Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk.
“It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be firm,” McIlroy said. “And I think that gives Bubba a little bit of an advantage with how high he hits it and how softly he hits it combined. So it all depends. I think it’ll be more about if Bubba comes back to the field rather than the field going to him. Because the guys coming out in the last few groups, it’s going to be hard to really get it going.”