Usually, there are about 40,000 fans on the Augusta National Golf Club grounds to watch the first groups play, and the crowd is excited for the final round to start, which gives even mundane shots by players in 49th place some import.
But at this year’s Masters, there are probably fewer than 10,000 fans allowed on the property, making traffic to the golf course a breeze. That has meant that the early crowds for the final round have been thin.
The early groups of players are making their way around Augusta National with a following that more closely resembles the last day of a local club championship than the most famous golf tournament in the world. At noon today, as Bryson DeChambeau walked to the fifth green, a couple spectators were having a conversation with him from 40 yards away — and both parties had no trouble hearing each other.
Two players making their debuts at the Masters are in the top 10. Get excited — but not too excited.
Will Zalatoris, seven under par for the tournament, finished Saturday’s round in a tie for second. He tees off at 2:20 p.m. Eastern time. And Robert MacIntyre, at two-under and teeing off at 2 p.m., was among those standing in 10th place on Sunday morning. If either of them can prevail, a mighty ask given that Hideki Matsuyama is at 11 under, the Masters will have a first-time player as its champion, ending a drought that has lasted since Fuzzy Zoeller managed the feat 1979.
“I’m here because I got here on merit, and I’m here to win a golf tournament,” MacIntyre, a 24-year-old player from Scotland who qualified for the Masters because of his world ranking. “If I wasn’t trying to win this golf tournament, I’d be sitting at home with my feet up watching it. I’ve prepared for the last two years or the last year; my goal was to top 50 to get in this golf tournament because I love watching it so much. I’m here now, and I’m trying to win it.”
Newcomers have made severe runs toward the green jacket in the past. For instance, just in November, Sungjae Im placed second in the tournament, and C.T. Pan finished in a tie for seventh. Abraham Ancer, who entered the final round tied with Im for the runner-up slot, was one of the 13th place finishers.
But Zoeller is the only modern exception to the seeming rule that newcomers must fade on a course that rewards experience. In their debuts, just two other men had won the Masters: Horton Smith in 1934, when Augusta National first held the tournament, and Gene Sarazen followed him in 1935.