sANDY Lyle likened it to sitting in the dentist’s waiting room. “You don’t know if it’s going to be pleasureable or painful,” said the Scot of the emotions that the leader goes through heading into the final round at Augusta National.
Of golf’s four majors, the Masters is probably the one that provides the sternest last-day test. The prospect of slipping on a coveted Green Jacket is tantalisingly close. One last trip to Amen Corner awaits, however, many prayers have gone unanswered there in the 78 previous stagings of this great event.
Lyle almost came a cropper in 1988. He led after 36 and 54 holes but relinquished it when his tee shot found Rae’s Creek at the 12th and cost him a double-bogey. Thankfully, he recovered from that setback to become the first British player to win here, so found his experience as pleasureable rather than painful.
“I always sleep pretty good – playing golf isn’t a life or death thing, after all,” recalled Lyle of how he’d felt on the Saturday night. “All you are really looking to do is get off to a nice start and not find yourself losing the plot early on. A Green Jacket is something every player wants to win, but you’ve got to try and control your emotions when that opportunity arises.”
Adam Scott has had mixed results when he has been in the Masters mix heading into the last round. “The first time was tough,” admitted the Australian of being pipped by Charl Schwartzel in 2011, though the South African, in fairness, did produce a birdie burst on the back nine to come out on top then. “The second time was more enjoyable,” he added of rolling in a birdie putt across the last green before beating Argentina’s Angel Cabrera in a play-off two years later.
“You just try to stay calm, get to sleep and do the stuff you’ve done for the other three days,” said Scott as he reflected on the night before the closing round. “You hope everything falls into place and you get that bit of winner’s luck. In 2013, I knew what I was getting myself into, but it’s never easy teeing up on the first in any tournament when you’re in contention.”
No-one has been in contention more here heading into the Sunday than Jack Nicklaus. “If you’re not confident and not prepared, you won’t be ready to do it,” said the six-times winner of what is required to finish off this particular job. “If you are prepared and you’re happy with what you are doing, then you don’t have a chance to get nervous or worry about anything. When I had a shot at winning, I knew that I had to really make sure that I focused properly.”
In recent years, Bubba Watson has clearly done a good job in retaining his focus in the heat of the battle, having come out on top in both 2012 and 2014. “Last year I turned off the TV, turned off the phones, tried to get focused on what I needed to do and prepare,” said the American of his Saturday night routine. It also included switching off from the next day’s task by spending time with his son, Caleb. “We think about toys and cars and not about golf,” he added.
It’s easier said than done, but Watson believes it’s fatal to start getting ahead of yourself on this course. “It’s very hard,” he admitted in reply to being asked if players start to think about having that Green Jacket slipped over their shoulders. “Even as a junior golfer, when I was playing I was always thinking about how much fun it would be to lift trophies, the media questions and what it would mean for my family. Here, in particular, the challenge is to not get ahead of yourself and focus on what you need to do.
“Even when I came to the 18th last year with a three-shot lead, I didn’t want to smile at people; I didn’t want to cheer. I was so focused on what I had to do. That’s the challenge for all of us on a Sunday here.”