Weather delay came at wrong time for Conners

If there was one player most disappointed when he heard the siren Saturday afternoon, it had to be Corey Conners.

An outlier when the third round began -- tied for 12th, five shots off pace -- he had needed just seven holes, including a hole-in-one, to insinuate himself among the Masters top tier, just one stroke behind then-leader Justin Rose. When play was suspended due to weather at 3:57 p.m., Conners was two-thirds of his way through Amen Corner in what had been the tournament’s round of the day. Then play was halted and in the interval, something somewhere shifted.

Conners, the 29-year-old Canadian, starts the final round five shots (again) behind Hideki Matsuyama and while he anticipates having a role when the air gets thick late Sunday afternoon, he can’t help but wonder where he might be if he hadn’t briefly balked after Saturday’s weather break. His third-round 68 got the field’s attention but there is no telling where he might fare if he hadn’t given away two, perhaps even three, shots after play resumed.

“(I’d) like a couple holes back, right after the restart,” he said

Strong play is no happenstance for Conners at Augusta National, where he’s played nine of his 13 competitive rounds under par. But his front nine was furious, with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3, a bogey on No. 5 and then the ace on the 180-yard sixth, which he followed up with a birdie on No. 7. That left him a 6 under, one behind Rose.

The hole-in-one was the sixth ever recorded at No. 6 and was the tournament’s second of the week after Tommy Fleetwood’s ace on No. 16 on Thursday. He is not the first Candanian to turn the trick there. Sandy Somervilleg holed out his tee-ball in 1934 in the first Masters.

“Didn’t seem like the wind was helping as much as I had anticipated but fortunately, it flew far enough,” he said. “I was trying to fly it somewhere over the bunker and get it ... to go close to the hole. Yeah, it was a little draw, turning at the pin.

“I think it hit the pin with a little bit of steam but it was right in the middle. So, pretty special moment.”

Turning in 32, he slipped to a second bogey on No. 10 but parred through the first two holes of Amen Corner still had the two par-5s to play when play was suspended before he could get to No. 13.

His second shot left him with an excellent eagle opportunity, some 20 feet on the left side of the green. But with the greens dampened by rain, he misjudged the pace and wound up not with a two-putt birdie but a three-putt par.

“Got tricked,” he said. “The greens kind of slowed down a little bit after all the rain”

His worst break of the day came on the next hole, when his tee shot into the trees to the left came to rest not in the pine straw but up against the trunk of a tree. His only shot was a back-handed chunk back into the fairway, which he glanced off a root, leading to a bogey that dropped him three shots off the pace. Though he shortly steeled himself for a strong finish, the two holes after the resumption put a crimp in his round.

But he quickly righted the round with a two-putt birdie from across the green on the par-5 15th and then hit a brilliant 151-yard approach into the par-4 17th, leaving him a seven-footer for this fifth birdie of the day. He might have done more damage on No. 18 when his dead-on approach hit the flagstick on the first bounce and ricocheted 15 feet away. He had to settle for par.

As well as settle with a remarkable round that could have been much more.

“I’m notoriously a great sleeper, so I don’t think that will be a problem (Saturday night),” Conners said. “Just stick with the same routine that I’ve been doing the last few days. Yeah, just try and get ready to have fun tomorrow.”