Masters Notebook

Neal Shipley parlays a perk he earned in 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills into low-am honors at Masters; 9 months after playing in Korn Ferry event at TPC Colorado, Camilo Villegas was paired with Rory in round 3; 2022 champ Scottie Scheffler leads by 1

By Gary Baines – 4/13/2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — From the file of “look how one thing can lead to another and another” — all in a good way — we give you the case of Neal Shipley.

Golf fans in Colorado may remember Shipley from last August at the U.S. Amateur that Cherry Hills Country Club hosted. Shipley wasn’t one of the big favorites coming into the championship, but the Ohio State golfer with the long, flowing locks certainly caught the imagination — and support — of the spectators in Colorado.

And though he didn’t win the title at Cherry Hills — he lost 4 and 3 to Nick Dunlap in the scheduled 36-hole final — both players earned big-time perks, perhaps the most notable of which were berths into this week’s Masters.

And Shipley took advantage of that to make the cut and advance to the weekend at Augusta National Golf Club. And, because none of the other four amateurs in the field did so, the 23-year-old went into Saturday’s third round knowing he had locked up low-amateur honors.

So on Sunday evening, when the new Masters champion is given the green jacket in Butler Cabin on CBS, Shipley will be there to be acknowledged as the low am, and will be asked an obligatory question or two on air by Jim Nantz and/or Masters chairman Fred Ridley.

It’s all pretty heady stuff for a guy who a year ago was a very good amateur who had yet to make a big mark nationally/internationally in golf.

“It feels really good,” Shipley said on Saturday regarding the Masters low-am honor. “I certainly had my eyes set on competing a lot this weekend and am still going to be trying to do that tomorrow and trying to climb up the leaderboard a little bit.

“It feels awesome to be here on the weekend. It’s pretty special out here on Saturday and Sunday.”

Shipley will join quite a storied list of Masters low amateurs, including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ben Crenshaw (twice), Curtis Strange, Viktor Hovland, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Cantlay, Hideki Matsuyama and Matt Kuchar, among others. Both Nicklaus and Mickelson also landed their spots in the Masters with U.S. Amateur victories in Colorado.

“It’s been a pretty cool journey over the last year or so,” Shipley said. “The progression of my game has been awesome. … It’s come a long way in the last four years.”

Saturday’s round certainly left a lot to be desired for Shipley, who failed to make a birdie and finished with an 8-over-par 80. After previous scores of 71-76, he sits in 52nd place at 11 over par. If it makes him feel any better, Tiger Woods carded an 82 on Saturday — his highest score in the 99 rounds he’s played in the Masters — and is tied with the Pittsburgh resident. Woods and Shipley will be paired together for Sunday’s final round, teeing off at 7:35 a.m. (MT).

“I whacked it around a few times today,” Shipley said. “I just came out and really didn’t have it. This place is going to expose you when it’s this firm and fast. It certainly caught me with my pants down today.”

So are the “patrons” at Augusta National getting behind Shipley like the fans did at Cherry Hills last summer?

“I think the amateurs here at Augusta National, they hold a really special place in the tournament,” he said. “I’ve felt a lot of support out here. The patrons have been great.”

Shipley said after finishing up his college golf eligibility this spring, he’ll play in the U.S. Open as an amateur — also based on being a 2023 U.S. Am finalist — then will turn pro sometime after that. 

Camilo Villegas is playing his first Masters since 2015. (Photo: Chloe Knott)

Back in the Big Leagues: Just nine months ago, golf fans in Colorado could have watched Camilo Villegas on the Korn Ferry Tour as he was in the field for last July’s Ascendant presented by Blue at TPC Colorado in Berthoud. For the record, he missed the cut there by six strokes.

To show how quickly things can change for players on tour, this week Villegas not only made the field for the Masters, but advanced to the weekend. And on Saturday, he was paired at Augusta National with one of golf’s biggest names, Rory McIlroy.

Things changed for Villegas when he won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in November for his fifth career victory on the PGA Tour, but first since 2014. That earned the 42-year-old Colombian his seventh Masters start — but first since 2015.

As for being paired with McIlroy on Saturday, Villegas said, “I actually came with him Monday, Tuesday of last week to just kind of do a little pre-tournament couple of rounds (at Augusta National). He’s a good friend. It was an easygoing round, just kind of chill.”

Scottie Scheffler celebrates after making an eagle on No. 13 on Saturday. (Photo: Simon Bruty)

At the Top of the Leaderboard: Scottie Scheffler, seeking his second Masters title in the last three years, sank an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday to grab a one-stroke lead through 54 holes. The No. 1-ranked player in the world, winner of two PGA Tour events since the beginning of March (plus a runner-up), drained a 31-foot putt for eagle on 13 to highlight his round of 1-under-par 71. He sits at 7 under par, one better than two-time major winner Collin Morikawa and two in front of Max Homa. Former U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who held at least a share of the lead after rounds 1 and 2, holed out from 77 yards for birdie on No. 18 to stop the bleeding after losing four strokes to par in the previous seven holes. He had to chip out of the right trees after a stray tee shot on 18. DeChambeau sits four out of the lead.

Tiger Woods couldn’t get a putt to drop on Saturday. (Photo: Shanna Lockwood)

Notable: A day after extending his cuts-made streak to a record 24 consecutive years at the Masters, five-time champion Tiger Woods struggled mightily on Saturday. After playing the first five holes in even par, the 15-time major champ went 10 over for his final 13 holes. He recorded back-to-back double bogeys on 7 and 8, made eight bogeys and two birdies. “I was not hitting it very good or putting well,” said Woods, who had played one full round of PGA Tour golf before this week. “I didn’t have a very good warmup session, and I kept it going all day today. I just hit the ball in all the places that I know I shouldn’t hit it. And I missed a lot of putts — easy, makable putts.” … Through the first two rounds, Patrick Cantlay made eagles twice on par-4s — holing out on the 17th hole on Thursday and making 2 on No. 3 on Friday. Only three other players in Masters history have eagled par-4s twice in a single Masters, with one of being Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Brandt Jobe (2006). The others are Jack Nicklaus (1995) and Brett Ogle (1993). … A day after three players in their 50s or 60s — all former champions — made the cut at the Masters — none made much headway on Saturday. Vijay Singh, 61, shot 82 in round 3. Jose Maria Olazabal, 58, fired a 75, while Phil Mickelson, 53, had a 74. … Officials from the Masters requested Jason Day take off the loud vest he wore during part of Friday’s second round. The Australian complied and removed it. “You do that because it’s all about the tournament here, and I understand that,” he said. “I respect the tournament.” Day said he was scripted by the Malbon company to wear certain outfits each day. … The Masters announced its prize-money breakdown on Saturday, with $3.6 million of the record $20 million overall purse going to the winner.  … This year and 2022 mark the only Masters in the last 50 years in which no eagles were recorded through three days at No. 15.

For all the scores from the Masters, CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates