Ever since the Masters began in 1934, there’s something that has never happened during the tournament. Something that many people likely will find difficult to believe, but it’s true. Since the first time it was played in 1934, 6,641 golfers have teed it up and 4,277 of them have played all four rounds of the tournament.
Not one of them, however, has shot four rounds in the 60s in one Masters.
The course that made going low in Major-championship golf fashionable has also been remarkably stingy in doing so for four straight tournament rounds. How miserly is Augusta? Consider that it has happened on 56 occasions in the other three Majors: 41 times at the PGA Championship (including six alone this year at Harding Park), 10 times at the Open Championship and even five times in the US Open, generally considered the stingiest Major in terms of rounds in relation to par.
In fact, there’s not another event on the PGA Tour calendar where shooting four sub-70 rounds has not occurred, so it’s not exactly a random occurrence. But not at the Masters. It’s 84 events and running.
Not that there haven’t been some close calls. Forty-one times in Masters history has a player shot three rounds in the 60s, a feat accomplished by 34 different golfers. Included among them is Phil Mickelson, who has done it four separate occasions, as well as Patrick Reed who looked like a real possibility to end the drought by going 69-66-67 before finishing with a 71 in 2018.
So why is going four-from-four so impossible?
For starters, Augusta National is a par 72, which means that at minimum you need to shoot 12-under par for the tournament. That’s only happened 35 times in Masters history (including four times in 2019). So just from that logistical standpoint, it’s no easy task.
Meanwhile, shooting your first three rounds in the 60s means you’re likely in contention to win the title, and with that comes the pressure associated with a Masters Sunday.
Thirteen times players had a chance heading into the final round to conquer golf’s version of Mount Everest. Some failed epically; Craig Parry’s 78 in 1992 and Ed Sneed’s 76 in 1979 being the biggest breakdowns. Other times, a player simply wants to protect his lead and avoid doing something that could lead to disaster. Seven eventual champions came into the final round with a chance to break 70 each day, but securing a green jacket meant more than another line in the record book. A 74 was good enough for Gary Player in 1961, and a 75 worked for Trevor Immelman in 2008.
A trio of players have come ever-so-close, shooting 70 in the final round. Arnold Palmer needed a final-nine 34 in 1964, and after birdies on holes 14 and 15 he was just one shy as he played the final holes. A 71st-hole bogey ended his hopes, although Palmer made birdie at the last and walked off with his fourth green jacket in seven years.
Fred Couples in 1992 had a shot at it as well. Couples also turned in 35 in the fourth round and played a clean back nine, but managed just one birdie and failed to convert on either of the par 5s. Like Palmer, however, Couples was wearing green before day’s end.
There was no such consolation for Phil Mickelson in 2001. Chasing Tiger Woods, who was going after the “Tiger Slam”, Lefty was one shot in arrears coming to the 16th. But his 7-iron shot hung up on the ridge, and he raced his putt past the hole and missed coming back for a deflating bogey.
“Sixteen was the real killer,” Mickelson said.
In more ways than one. Mickelson parred the final two holes for a 70 to come up three short of Woods and a single shot short of making history.
Which just puts him alongside those 6,640 other Masters participants.