When he held a four-shot lead entering the final round of the 2011 Masters Tournament, Rory McIlroy changed his demeanor.
The move backfired.
“I came out and was trying to be this player that I’m not,” said McIlroy, who ballooned to a final-round 80. “I was trying to be ultra-focused, tunnel-visioned, which just isn’t like me. I’m usually pretty chatty and sort of looking around and being quite relaxed about the whole thing.”
Sunday collapses are nothing new, especially in Augusta. In 75 Masters Tournaments, only 41 players holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead have gone on to win the green jacket. The last 54-hole leader to win the Masters was Angel Cabrera in 2009; he shared the third-round lead with Kenny Perry.
Peter Hanson will try to hold onto the 54-hole Masters lead today. He is one shot ahead of Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner at Augusta National Golf Club.
There have been several famous final-day collapses. In 1996, Greg Norman lost the largest 54-hole lead in Masters history, when he watched a six-shot advantage disappear en route to 78 and a runner-up finish to Nick Faldo.
Ed Sneed lost a five-shot lead in 1979. Ken Venturi almost became the first amateur to win in 1956, but he blew a four-shot advantage on a windswept Sunday and closed with 80.
Last year, McIlroy seemed on his way to his first major title. After rounds of 65-69-70, the Northern Irishman led Cabrera by four entering the final round. After a triple bogey on No. 10, McIlroy ultimately shot 80. He said he learned from the experience, and two months later, he won the U.S. Open by eight shots.
“However you’ve played those first three days, try not to change anything,” McIlroy said. “You just have to try to be the same person.”
Kyle Stanley knows what it’s like trying to convert a big lead into a win. At the Farmers Insurance Open in January, he led by six entering the final round and by three as he walked to No. 18. He posted a triple bogey, then lost a sudden-death playoff to Brandt Snedeker.
Stanley bounced back the following week, roaring from eight shots back of 54-hole leader Spencer Levin to win the Phoenix Open.
“It’s probably easier to play chase than to play protecting the lead,” Stanley said. “When you’re protecting something, you’re trying not to make mistakes. When you’re chasing something, you’re trying to make birdies.
“You have to keep the same mindset whether you’re behind or whether you’re up.”
On the PGA Tour this season, only four 54-hole leaders in 14 tournaments have gone on to win – McIlroy, Tiger Woods, George McNeill and Steve Stricker.