Jeff Knox's Excellent Round as Marker Epitomizes Rory McIlroy's Odd Masters

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2014

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 12:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland chats with marker Jeff Knox on the first tee box during the third round of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy nearly hit Adam Scott, standing at No. 5, with his hole shot on No. 4 on Friday. That same day, he somehow managed to hit a sprinkler head just outside the green on No. 13 and watched his shot carom wildly into the shrubbery. And on Saturday, he was outplayed by his marker. 

Suffice to say, it has been an odd Masters for McIlroy.

McIlroy was the last player to play on Friday who made the cut, barely squeezing in at four over par, and an odd number of players advanced to the weekend. That meant that McIlroy was assigned a marker as his playing partner, Jeff Knox.

At Augusta, the markers are non-competitors assigned by the club. And it was quickly obvious that Knox more knew his way around the course, as he shot an impressive two-under 70, besting McIlroy's 71. After, McIlroy was effusive in his praise for Knox, via Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:

Jeff is a great player. He beat me by one. So I thought he was going to be nice and 3‑putt the last and we would have a halve, but he beat me by one. … He obviously knows this place so well and gets it round. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as 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 really well and he couldn’t have been more helpful. He was really nice all the way around.

Knox is no ordinary marker. Per Andy Bull of The Guardian, Knox set the course record, an amazing 61 he shot from the member tees in 2002 (his record from the pro tees is still an impressive 69). And per Bull, Jim Furyk once said that Knox could "beat half the field who made the cut." 

And then there's this Augusta tale that Bull passed along:

In 2006 Knox played the final round with Sergio Garcia. Whisper this, because the members would not look too kindly on such a tale getting around, but the two of them are reputed to have put a little something on the side, just to make things interesting.

Knox's scores do not count, after all, and Garcia had blown up the previous day and was nine shots off the lead. 'I remember seeing them all come down the fairway on the 18th. Sergio had just sent his drive way over into the trees,' one long-time Masters spectator says. 'And Jeff and his caddie had these big old grins on their faces.' The story goes that Garcia refused to shake Knox's hand when the round was over.

'Yeah, I played pretty good against Sergio,' Knox said afterwards, with a forgivable hint of self-satisfaction. He made par, which was one better than García managed.

In other words, there really wasn't any embarrassment in McIlroy losing by a stroke to Knox. 

But man alive, has he had an odd Masters. There was the three-putt to close Thursday to end a strong day of golf on a really sour note. There was his tee shot that nearly hit Scott. There was this:

David J. Phillip

At least it made for a pretty photo, right?

And, of course, there was the strange story of the fan who saw McIlroy's countenance in a piece of danish. Seriously. From ESPN:

Somewhere along the way, his tournament has become less about the fact that he's disappointingly sitting at three-over and out of the running for a green jacket, and more just about a series of bad beats and odd occurrences. 

At this point, McIlroy will be looking to finish strong and try to get even for the tournament. His horrid Friday really ruined otherwise solid displays on Thursday and Saturday, though, it should be pointed out that he shot a 65 in the final round of the Shell Houston Open. 

Replicate that, and he would be sitting at four-under for the tournament. It's a long shot for sure, but if any player is capable of shooting his way back into a major with a huge round, it's McIlroy. 

At least he knows if he pulled off that feat, he wouldn't have to worry about any markers topping his score.