AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – After two rounds of stellar golf, Bubba Watson stumbled on moving day at the Masters.
Watson had four bogeys on the front side Saturday – twice as many as he had in the first two rounds combined – and made the turn with a 2-over 38 that left tied for the lead with Thomas Bjorn and Jonas Blixt.
The 2012 Masters champion posted two rounds in the 60s to start the tournament, giving him a three-stroke lead and the largest 36-hole edge since Chad Campbell in 2006.
Bjorn and Blixt both shot 34 on the front side to wipe out Watson’s lead. Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth were one stroke back in what was setting up as a wide-open Sunday with Tiger Woods on the sideline for the first time in his career, recovering from back surgery.
Watson bogeyed the first hole, then struck a brilliant approach shot that rolled up about 5 feet from the flag to set up an eagle 3 at the second. That would be his only highlight on the front side; he bogeyed both par-3s as well as the seventh to surrender what had seemed like a fairly comfortable lead not more than an hour earlier.
With Watson moving the wrong way, plenty of others were suddenly in contention for the green jacket on a picturesque day.
Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a 6-under 66, matching the best round ever for a senior golfer at Augusta National.
The Spaniard known as ”The Mechanic” finished up with a par at the 18th about the time Watson was teeing off at the adjacent first hole, having sliced a 10-shot deficit to just four by taking advantage of warm, sunny conditions with barely a hint of the swirling breezes that can make Augusta so treacherous.
”I played very solid all day long,” Jimenez said. ”A beautiful day here.”
Jimenez turned 50 in January and will make his debut on the Champions Tour at an event in suburban Atlanta next weekend.
In the meantime, he claimed a spot in the Masters record book, matching the lowest score ever by a player 50 and older. Ben Hogan was 54 when he shot 66 during the third round of the 1967 tournament, and Fred Couples matched it at age 50 during the opening round in 2010.
”Just because you are 50 does not mean you cannot play golf,” said Jimenez, one of six 50-and-older golfers to make the Masters cut. ”I’m still flexible. I hit the ball longer than ever.”
Jimenez has never won a major championship but he’s been a perennial contender in the biggest events, capturing a new generation of fans with his unique stretching routine before each round, his long ponytail, and his fondness for wine and cigars.
If he can put together another stellar round on Sunday, he sees no reason why he can’t become the oldest major champion in golf history. He was the leader in the clubhouse with a 3-under 213, tied with someone at the opposite end of the age scale, 25-yard-old Ricky Fowler, who shot 67.
”The main thing is probably that I like what I am doing in my life,” Jimenez said. ”I enjoy competing.”
That wasn’t the only new entry in the Masters record book.
Gary Woodland matched the lowest score ever on the front nine with a 6-under 30, and actually got his score to 7 under with another birdie at the 10th. But the 29-year-old American couldn’t keep it going through Amen Corner, where a bogey at the 11th and a double-bogey on 12 stifled his momentum.
Woodland struggled down the stretch and settled for a 69, which left him at 216.
Defending champion Adam Scott couldn’t get anything going, his chances of becoming only the fourth back-to-back winner in Masters history fading away with an ugly 40 on the front side. He double-bogeyed the fourth and bogeyed three other holes before the turn.
Early on, the patrons were roaring for Woodland, who became the first player since Phil Mickelson in the final round of the 2009 tournament to shoot 30 on the first nine holes. The only others to do it were K.J. Choi in 2004, Greg Norman in 1988 and Johnny Miller in 1975.
A tepid chip from behind the green at the 11th led to Woodland’s first bogey. Still shaken from that flub, he made an even bigger mistake when his tee shot at the 12th rolled back into Rae’s Creek.
Two more bogeys turned Woodland into a bit of an afterthought.
But plenty of others were ready to seize the spotlight.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963