The third round at Augusta National is in the books. Here are seven things that stood out from Day 3 of the Masters.
For the first time in his already storied four-year career at the Masters, Jordan Spieth is in the chasing position going into Sunday. And he couldn’t be more thrilled about it.
Consider that he was 10 back after the first day and that early in his Friday round he was grinding just to make the cut. Now, after flirting with the lead during a Saturday 68, he is tied for fourth at four under par, two shots behind Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.
In 2015, Spieth won in record-setting fashion, and unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 12 months you know that he was on his way to repeating last year before making a quadruple bogey at the par-3 12th in the final round. On Sunday he’ll go off in the penultimate group with Rickie Fowler, who’s five under. The man who has finished second in his two other Masters appearances and had at least a share of the third-round lead each of the last three years has a chance to make more history with a win on Sunday.
For starters, his Thursday 75 would match Craig Stadler in 1982 for the highest first-round score by a Masters champion. No player has come from more than seven back after the first round to win. And that quad he made at the par-5 15th on Thursday, the disaster that put him in his early predicament? No player has made more than 7 on a hole and won the green jacket.
“After the first round I couldn’t ask for much better than this,” Spieth said. “We fought back tremendously to have a chance to win this golf tournament.” Later, he added, “New experience for me, coming from behind on Sunday at the Masters, which is kind of fun to say.”
Spieth pointed to the 69 he shot on Friday as the round that got him back into contention. He slipped to four over after a bogey at the 4th, but he played the last 14 holes in four under, punctuated by a birdie at the last that got him back to even par. Then in his first 15 holes on Friday he made five more birdies and ran his streak without making a bogey to 29 holes.
“I went to bed with my heart pumping faster [Friday] night because of yesterday’s round than I probably will tonight,” Spieth said, “because I already knew I had a chance. And we did what we needed to do today.”
At the par-5 13th, Spieth drew inspiration from Arnold Palmer. Faced with a 228-yard second shot off of the pine straw, caddie Michael Greller wanted his man to lay up short of Rae’s Creek. Spieth admitted it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea, noting that in the previous two years he had gotten up and down for birdie to that same hole location. But he was also at four under and stalking the lead. So he looked at Greller and asked, “What would Arnie do?”
Then Spieth proceeded to pull off a Palmer-like shot, fading a 4-iron into the middle of the green. His ball stopped 29 feet past the hole, and his eagle putt grazed the lip on the low side. Still, he had a kick-in birdie. “I thought, in order to win this golf tournament—I hit my favorite shot I’ve ever hit in competition on that hole going for it when we had that decision in 2015. So there’s good vibes.”
Before sitting down for his media session on Saturday evening, Spieth gave the scoreboard to his left a long look. Two back, only three players in his way. It was a far cry from Thursday, when he trailed 40 players, his hopes seemingly dashed by a spinning wedge shot that sucked his ball back into the water. Now, a second Masters title is right there in front of him. Remarkably, for the first time in four appearances at Augusta National, he won’t be in the last pairing on Sunday. Maybe that’s a good thing.
“Tomorrow might free me up a bit, being behind,” Spieth said. “I plan to play aggressive because at this point it’s win or go home. So you pull off the shots and you make the putts, then I want to give myself a chance for that to be enough. And if I don’t, so be it. Finishing fifth versus 10th doesn’t mean much to me.”
Danny Willett putting the green jacket on Spieth—who could have seen that happening on Thursday?
WHAT PHIL DID NEXT
After Phil Mickelson hit drives of 313 and 312 yards and made birdie at the first two holes, it’s hard to understand why he opted for the safe play off the tee at the 350-yard 3rd. His iron found a fairway bunker, and from there he made a mess of things, taking double. The momentum sucked out of him, Mickelson walked off the 9th green at three over par. By the end of the day he was eight back.
But among the leaders, Phil wasn’t alone in his struggles at the 3rd. Fowler, the first player to get to five under on Saturday, had to make a 14-footer to salvage bogey. And Ryan Moore’s streak of 26 holes without a bogey ended at Flowering Peach.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Justin Thomas leads the field in greens in regulation, having hit 42 of 54 greens through three rounds. So why is he only tied for 28th, at four over par and 10 shots back? He’s dead last in putting among the 55 players who made the cut.
AND WITH WHOM DID YOU PLAY THIS WEEKEND?
On Saturday, Jeff Knox, the most famous marker in the history of major-championship golf, played with Jason Day. On Sunday, Knox is expected to tee it up with Ernie Els.
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Charl Schwartzel. He’s lurking at two under after shooting 68, which was highlighted by an eagle at the 15th. Schwartzel won a shootout at the 2011 Masters by making birdie at each of the last four holes. He’s four back. When he won, he started the final round—you guessed it—four back.
FOR THE COMPANY’S MONEY …
There are no better sporting events than the Masters and the Kentucky Derby. It’s not just the competition; it’s also the people. The folks in Augusta and Louisville know how the turn on their Southern charm.
Rose was second to Spieth in 2015, and though the roles heading into the final round are reversed this time, the results will be the same. Strange as it may be to say, Spieth can putt better. Aside from the bomb he made at the 6th, he had four kick-in birdies, including a pair of two-putts at the par-5 8th and 13th (one from 10 feet). He missed good looks at 1, 2, 3, 5, 17 and 18. Rose will grow weary of watching Spieth pick his ball out of the hole in the pairing ahead. It’ll go down to the wire, but Spieth wins by a shot.