Just when it seemed as if Jordan Spieth was about to take a commanding six- or seven-shot lead into the final round of the Masters, a sloppy double bogey at the 17th Saturday ended any thoughts of a runaway and brought more than a touch of suspense to what surely will be another riveting Sunday played out in the early evening shadows at Augusta National.
Spieth’s double-bogey six, the result of a chunked third shot approach to the green, combined with Englishman Justin Rose’s 25-foot birdie putt at the 18th, cut Speith’s 54-hole lead to a far more tenuous four-shot advantage over Rose. Lurking five behind is Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion who matched Rose for lowest score of the day with a 67.
Spieth settled for a 2-under-par 70 and a 16-under 200 total, a tournament record after 54 holes and only two shots short of Tiger Woods’ record 18-under 72-hole total, when he won his first Masters in 1997. Spieth, the 21-year-old Texan, now has a chance to become only the fifth wire-to-wire winner at Augusta, but he also knows that no lead is safe on a Sunday afternoon, as he learned the hardest way possible a year ago.
“There’s going to be roars,” said Spieth, who will play with Rose on Sunday in the final pairing, with Mickelson and fellow Californian Charley Hoffman just ahead. “Phil is going to have a lot of roars in front. Everyone loves Phil. Why wouldn’t you love Phil? And he’s going to make some noise, and he’s going to make a run. Justin is going to do the same.”
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Spieth was two shots ahead with 11 to play at last year’s Masters before faltering on his final two front-nine holes. It was just enough of an opening for eventual champion Bubba Watson to push ahead and ultimately prevail by three over Spieth and Jonas Blixt, who tied for second. This is Spieth’s second Masters, and he has insisted all week that he learned valuable lessons a year ago on how to handle the back-nine heat.
“It’s about just throwing that out of my mind,” he said. “Not worrying about it, not caring, setting a goal and being patient with the opportunities that are going to come my way.”
What his closest pursuers learned late Saturday was that Spieth is certainly not invincible, even if that is how it looked when he birdied 15 and 16 and was seven in front of both Mickelson and Rose playing ahead. Mickelson bogeyed the 17th, costing him a chance to play in the final pairing. Hoffman, who was paired with Spieth on Saturday and shot 71, made an eight-foot birdie putt at 18, leaving him at 10-under 206 in solo fourth.
Asked if he thought he could win a fourth green jacket Sunday, Mickelson smiled and said: “I’m not going to try and convince anybody. I’m going to go have fun tomorrow. It’s what I’ve been looking forward to, thinking of and dreaming of when I was getting up at 5:30 in the morning in the offseason working out, trying to get some speed, trying to be in contention in this tournament. So here we are six months later, and it’s going to be a fun day.”
There were several other fun and riveting runs up the leaderboard Saturday, but Miami’s Erik Compton did not make one of them. He shot a 74 and is at 3-over 219, tied for 46th place. Compton is playing in his first Masters and trying to figure out the greens.
Woods had no such problems, making three consecutive birdies after an opening par and shooting 68 despite a bogey at the 18th. And Rory McIlroy, the No.1 player in the world, had an eagle and two birdies on his front nine but stumbled with a bogey at the last. He, too, came in with a 68 and was tied with Woods in fifth place at 6-under 210. McIlroy’s quest for three consecutive major victories and the career grand slam surely came to an end. He and Woods both are 10 shots behind.
Still, Woods, as always, was not quite ready to concede.
“I’m going to have to put together a really special round of golf [Sunday],” he said. “And you just never know. You saw what happened in ’96 [with Nick Faldo overtaking Greg Norman]. You saw what happened to Rory in 2011 [when McIlroy, the 54-hole leader, shot 80 in the final round]. You never know around this golf course.”
1. Jordan Spieth
2. Justin Rose
3. Phil Mickelson
4. Charley Hoffman
T5. Rory McIlroy
T5. Tiger Woods
T5. Three others
Fourth round: 2 p.m., CBS
Scores/tee times: 7D