AUGUSTA, Ga. – Leading the Masters but with all sorts of big names behind him, Charley Hoffman finally seemed to sense the enormity of his position late Saturday afternoon.
When his ball splashed into the pond at No. 16, the advantage was gone.
“Wow,” Hoffman mouthed on the tee box.
The 40-year-old American squandered a chance to play in the final group at Augusta National with a series of errant shots coming down the stretch.
Now, he'll have to make up some ground today to capture a green jacket and his first major title. The deficit – two shots – isn't all that daunting.
But the players ahead of him certainly are. Justin Rose. Sergio Garcia. Rickie Fowler. Jordan Spieth. Hoffman preferred to focus on the positive.
“The swing on 16, it happens. It was a bad one,” he said. “But I'm happy. I'm two back. I've been playing good golf and I'm really happy with where I'm at.”
It could've been a lot better. Hoffman was at 7-under when he rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt at No. 13. Then, suddenly, it all fell apart.
An errant tee shot at the 14th wound up on the pine straw right of the fairway. His approach skidded through the green, leaving him an up-and-down from 45 feet. But the pitch was a poor one, racing 16 feet past the flag and leading to a bogey.
Heading to the par-5 15th, traditionally the easiest hole on the course, Hoffman had a prime chance to get that stroke back. But a wild second shot sprayed the patrons to the right of the green, leaving a treacherous third shot over a bunker. With no way to get it close, Hoffman played it safe and wound up with a two-putt par from 20 feet.
With the flag tucked in the back right of the 16th green, Hoffman sent one soaring off to the left. It never had a chance, popping the calm water to set up a double-bogey 5.
Just like that, Hoffman's name slipped off the top line of the leader board – a spot he had commandeered with a brilliant 7-under 65 in treacherous winds Thursday, giving him a four-shot cushion and biggest lead after the first round of the Masters since 1955.
In a second round accompanied by more swirling gusts, Hoffman soared to a 75. But he was still in a four-way tie for the lead, and it looked as though he had regained his form when he birdied two of the first four holes Saturday.
Still out front, Hoffman navigated Amen Corner without any major problems. But those closing holes were a struggle.
“Everybody knows with this back nine, anything can happen,” Hoffman said. “You can make birdies, eagles, bogeys.”
Hoffman finished the round with a 72.