Golf’s future might be arriving sooner than expected.
When 20-year-old Jordan Spieth sank a short par putt on the 18th green late Saturday afternoon to complete a round of 2-under-par 70 at the Masters, he pumped his fist in satisfaction. Then, walking off the green, he applauded back and waved to a gallery that was giving him a standing ovation.
A wave that might have had Spieth saying, “See you back here Sunday.”
And probably many more.
Playing in his first Masters and on a hot, dry day that had Augusta National’s greens playing at warp speed, Spieth tied for the top spot and will be paired in Sunday’s final round with second-round leader Bubba Watson, who shot a 2-over 74 and shares Spieth’s three-day total of 211, 5-under par.
Lurking one shot behind Spieth and Watson are Matt Kuchar – who would have joined them at the top had it not been for a bogey on the 18th – and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt. Two others – Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rickie Fowler – are tied for fifth at 3-under 213.
Watson, 15 years Spieth’s elder and the 2012 Masters champion, let a three-stroke lead get away from Friday. There to take advantage was Spieth, who became the PGA Tour’s first teen-aged winner since 1931 when he won the John Deere Classic in 2013.
That victory cemented him as most golf observers’ next young star. What he’s done this week at Augusta is only further evidence of that.
“I wanted to get into contention,” said Spieth, who played collegiate golf at Texas. “Not just as a goal to get into contention, but to see how I can perform on a Sunday.”
Spieth, one of a record 24 first-timers in the Masters, started the day four shots behind Watson.
“I knew that even par was going to be a really good score,” said Spieth, who did better than that, thanks mainly to consecutive birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. “I just stayed really patient.”
Watson had an adventuresome time of it early in his round. He bogeyed No. 1 after an errant tee shot, then eagled the par-5 second hole when he hit his second shot to within 12 feet of the flag stick. That got him to 8-under, but he eventually lost sole possession of the lead after two more bogeys on the front nine and another on No. 16. Although he scrambled for pars on the final two holes, he was satisfied with how he played.
“I only know one swing I wish I could do over and that was the first tee shot on the first hole,” Watson said.
Kuchar made the biggest move of the day. Trailing Watson by seven strokes after two rounds, he made up all but one of them by shooting a 4-under par round of 68, which included five birdies and just two bogeys.
On a day where temperatures reached the mid-80s, Kuchar said the greens were tortuously fast.
“I mean, it was a bit on the frightening side,” he said.
Kuchar is one golfer who’s more than capable of stepping in Sunday if either Spieth or Watson falters. He’s been playing well recently, losing a playoff at the Houston Open last week to Matt Jones. He has a strong record at the Masters, with a pair of top-10s the past two years.
“We all want to peak come Masters week,” said Kuchar. “I almost think more of maintaining the form I’ve been on. I’m pretty pleased with the trend right now.”
Blixt started the day four strokes behind Watson. He made up half that deficit.
“I feel like almost everything in my bag is kind of working pretty well,” said Blixt. “If I can put the golf ball on the fairway tomorrow I think I’ll be dangerous.”
One of Saturday’s major casualties was 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, who began the day three behind Watson. Scott struggled with a 4-over 76 and is 1-over par for the tournament, six strokes behind the leaders.
On Saturday morning, Spieth and Watson walked past each other on the practice range. Spieth, apparently not joking, told Watson: “We’ll see you in the last group Sunday.”
Watson replied, “You’d better play good.”
That’s exactly what happened.