A tradition unlike any other inside the tradition unlike any other: waiting to see if an odd number of players make the cut at the Masters.
Why? Because, per Augusta National’s rules, no single should play the course alone on the weekend of the tournament. Instead, they assign a marker to play with the first player off on Saturday and Sunday morning. That marker for the last five Masters, and eight times overall has been Jeff Knox.
So, on Friday afternoon, when the cutline fell to six-over par and Bubba Watson snuck into the weekend as the 57th man on the leaderboard, his prize was an early-morning tee time with a legend.
Not sure which is the more anticipated pairing tomorrow: The last one (Spieth and McIlroy) or the first one (Bubba and Jeff Knox).
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) April 8, 2016
Knox is a cult hero among “low-handicap dreamers,” as Gary Van Sickle of Golf.com put it in his profile of Knox earlier this year. As the best player at Augusta National Golf Club and owner of the course record — he shot a 61 from the member tees — Knox is tapped to accompany giants of the game around his home course.
And often, he beats them.
Remember the 2014 Masters, when then world No. 1 Rory McIlroy shot 71 on Saturday, only to lose to his amateur marker by a stroke? That was Knox, your Masters McDreamy. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen on Augusta’s greens,” said McIlroy, who even after birdies on three of the last four holes fell a shot short.
As a marker Knox has played 15 Masters rounds. (Trivia: That’s one fewer than Tony Lema but three more than Webb Simpson.) Though his score is unofficial, Knox has shot lower than his playing partners almost half the time. No one is keeping track, but I put Jeff’s win-loss record at 6-8-1.
He first appeared as a marker in 2003, and he has played with everyone from major champions to amateurs. The first year he played with Craig Stadler, the 1982 Masters champ. Stadler shot 79–77, and Knox dusted him twice. Nobody took much notice.
In 2006, Jim Furyk shot a Saturday 68 and said Knox “could beat half the field who made the cut.” The next day Sergio García was none too pleased with having to play with a marker. Knox clipped him by a stroke.
In 2008, after being outdriven on the opening tee shot on Saturday, Miguel Ángel Jiménez theatrically wagged his finger at Knox and joked (maybe), “You cannot do that anymore.” Duly provoked, Jiménez shot 72, five better than Knox.
On Saturday, Bubba Watson will be Knox’s playing partner, not the other way around. And if Bubba’s not on top of his game, Knox’s unofficial record could climb to 7-8-1.
This year, more than ever, we’ll be watching.
— Chris Chaney (@Wrong_Fairway) April 9, 2016