AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy went from Masters contention, to being clipped by a noncompeting marker in the span of 24 hours.
It’s not as bad as it sounds.
This marker is not just your ordinary marker. This is Jeff Knox, Augusta National’s official marker. He is the marker of all markers. The 51-year-old is an Augusta National club member who holds the course-record, an 11-under-par 61 from the member tees. He will beat you and not feel badly about it.
To brush up on marker duties, when there are an odd number of players that make the cut at the Masters, Augusta National calls on Knox to fill the spot in the first pairing. A marker keeps the professional’s scorecard and helps keep the pace of play at a normal rate.
After the 3 hour, 15 minute round with McIlroy was over the scores read McIlroy 71, Knox 70. And that was with a two-shot swing on 18 when Knox made bogey to McIlroy’s birdie.
“I thought he was going to be nice and three-putt the last and we would have a halve, but he beat me by one,” Rory laughed.
Knox, who did not speak to reporters on Saturday, was first called upon in 2002 to play with Craig Stadler. On that day he holed out a wedge shot for eagle on the par-5 eighth hole.
Two years ago he played with Kelly Kraft, who was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion at the time. Last year he played with Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson. He’s played with Sergio Garcia in the past.
The best Knox story being tossed around Augusta National Saturday was that he once was a marker for Miguel Angel Jimenez. On that day, the story goes, Jimenez piped a drive down the middle of the first fairway. Knox stood up and did the same. Once Jimenez noticed how far Knox hit the ball he looked at Knox, pointed his finger, and blurted out a funny, “no, no, no.”
“I’ve played in a good bit of competition, of course, but nothing like this,” Knox told reporters two years ago. “The first couple of holes is a little nerve-racking. The first shot on No. 1, definitely. You just want to elevate the ball, that’s my goal. Get it off the tee.”
Well, that wasn’t a problem on this perfect Georgia day.
Knox made birdie on the par-5 15th hole after hitting a beautifully executed chip shot to about 4 feet. He made the putt. On the par-3 16th hole Knox hit his tee shot to about 8 feet, but he missed the birdie putt.
McIlroy finished birdie, birdie on the last two holes to shoot 71 and Knox made bogey for his 70 when he hit his approach into the greenside bunker and failed to get up and down.
“He obviously knows this place so well and gets it around,” McIlroy said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt the greens as well and he does around here. He was really impressive. I was thinking of maybe getting him to read a few of my putts out there.
“He played just like he should be playing in the Masters.”