"The Masters doesn't start until the second nine on Sunday" is heard every year and may be more relevant than ever in 2024. Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY NETWORK Round 3: Scottie Scheffler walks off the No. 11 green. Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY NETWORK

Seven golfers will head into Sunday’s final round within Scottie Scheffler, the 54-hole leader, 2022 champion and No. 1 ranked golfer in the world. With that, a phrase that Masters viewers have heard a lot over the years will be particularly relevant this year.

The Masters doesn’t start until the second nine on Sunday.

It was a phrase coined by Dan Jenkins. In 2014, the late, great golf writer shared in a tweet that he wished he’d monetized that line.

He wished that for a good reason.

We’ve seen so many thrilling finishes over the years that — unless we’re seeing a complete dismantling of the field like Tiger Woods in 1997 — it’s an unavoidable thought. And through 54 holes of the 2024 Masters, the thought feels even more relevant than normal. This is true not just because of the tight leaderboard, but how we got there.

To demonstrate what can happen on Sunday, we don’t need to look beyond what happened to Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau (who are in first and fifth place, respectively going into the final round) on Saturday.

Scheffler carded an even-par 36 on Saturday’s second nine, while DeChambeau was two-over at 38. At a glance, there’s nothing too wild about that. But a look at their scorecards shows us how much can happen over those nine holes.

Scheffler beat DeChambeau by two shots on the par-five 13th hole. Each golfer beat the other by three shots on a different hole on the second nine, with DeChambeau making a birdie against Scheffler’s double-bogey on the par-four 10th hole and the two reversing those scores on the par-five 15th.

And it goes beyond the scores. While Scheffler was two better than DeChambeau on No. 13, both men were on the green in two. DeChambeau, in fact, was closer. But DeChambeau was above the hole, leading to a fast putt and ultimately a disappointing three-putt. Scheffler had the better angle and made an eagle.

On No. 18, one of the two holes on the second nine that the two men had the same score on, DeChambeau found trouble off of the tee and after punching his second shot out, looked like he’d do well to make par.

Instead, he holed out from the fairway for a dramatic birdie.

And if anything, the normal Sunday course setup will promote more unpredictability.

The U.S. Open is often about avoiding complete disaster as it is hitting great shots. It’s important to understand the value of a par, not get too worked up about a bogey and look for a few opportunities to make birdies. That’s not the Masters and definitely not the Masters on Sunday.

Five holes on the second nine have water in play. Sunday’s pin locations tend to be in places where, if a golfer goes at the pin and hits a good shot, a birdie is in play. Conversely, with the slopes and speed of the greens, if a golfer goes at the flag and hits even an average shot, salvaging a par becomes easier said than done.

Scheffler certainly has a great chance to win his second Green Jacket. He’s a shot ahead of Collin Morikawa, who’s one clear of Max Homa. Homa is one shot better than Ludvig Åberg, who is a shot better than Bryson DeChambeau. Behind DeChambeau by one shot are three players — Xander Schauffele, Cameron Davis and Nicolai Højgaard. All eight of those men have a realistic chance at winning. And it doesn’t stop there.

So, when you’re watching the final round, remember that there’s a big difference between a seemingly safe lead and an actually safe lead. Remember Yogi Berra’s classic, “It’s not over ’til it’s over.” And remember Jenkins’ line. And most importantly, remember Jenkins’ line. Everything that happens in the first 63 of the Masters matters.

But when the golfers make the turn for the inward half on Sunday, the drama will only just be getting started.

[Dan Jenkins on Twitter/X]

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