However the Masters ends on Sunday, leader Jordan Spieth will remember Saturday’s final two holes as pivotal in his pursuit of his first major championship.
Spieth was cruising along at 18-under for the tournament through 16 holes – six strokes ahead and tied for the lowest score in Masters history – until he got sloppy with a double bogey on the par-4 17th. Then, after a poor second shot on No. 18, Spieth saved par with an impressive up-and-down.
Spieth’s 2-under 70 gave him a three-day total of 200 (16-under), the lowest 54-hole total in Masters history. He’s four shots ahead of Justin Rose and five up on Phil Mickelson.
As comfortable as the lead seems, it could have been much tighter after those final two perilous holes.
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Spieth hooked his driver to the left, but recovered with a second shot that landed to the right side of the green. With a chip that he said he felt “uncomfortable” with, Spieth’s third shot barely made it to the front edge of the green. Three putts later, he had his double bogey.
“The driver should have never come out of my bag,” said Spieth. “I was getting a little erratic with the driver. I was very frustrated with the decision. I don’t want decision-making to ever cost me in an event like this.”
After a solid drive, Spieth’s second shot sailed to the right side of the green. With a bunker between the ball and the green, Spieth elected to hit a flop wedge over the sand, rather than try a safer chip to the right side of the bunker onto the green. The ball landed about six feet past the hole and Spieth made the par putt.
“That took some guts,” said Spieth of the flop wedge. “Having been in contention enough on Tour, I felt comfortable playing that full flop. It was nice to have seen that go that way, to play (aggressively) and to close it out with a nice putt.
“Seeing any putt go in on 18 is nice.”
Said Spieth: “It gives me a lot of confidence going into (Sunday). I’ve got to have a relatively stress-free round going. When I say that, I mean give myself some tap-ins pars and not have to make so many putts.”
Four former major champions – and Charley Hoffman – will also be playing in Sunday’s final groups, all in pursuit of Spieth.
▪ Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, birdied the 18th hole for a 5-under 67 (12-under for the tournament) and will play in Sunday’s final pairing with Spieth.
▪ Mickelson got to within four strokes of Spieth at one point before a bogey on No. 17. He also finished with a 67.
“To play late on the weekends at Augusta, perfect weather, the golf course was just stupendous,” said three-time champion Mickelson.
▪ Woods’ 68 followed a 69 on Friday. It was the first time he’s posted back-to-back rounds in the 60s since 2005, the last time he won the Masters. His score could have been lower, but he missed make-able birdie putts during the middle part of the first nine.
Here’s how he described his round: “Oh, man, it could have been something seriously low, I had it really going. I stuffed it at 6, missed it, stuffed it at 7, missed it. Sweet up and down at 9. That was pretty sweet. A stupidly good birdie at 13. And a stupid bogey at 14.”
▪ McIlroy eagled No. 2 and was off to his 68.
“My game plan is simple around here,” said McIlroy, who needs to win the Masters to complete a “career slam” of winning all four major championships. “It’s to try and par the tough holes and pick off your birdies on the more gettable holes.”
▪ Former Duke player Kevin Streelman has been the definition of consistency with three rounds of 70. He’s 10 behind Spieth and tied for fifth with McIlroy, Woods, Kevin Na and Columbia’s Dustin Johnson.
“My whole career is like that,” said Streelman. “Just kind of quiet. Quiet and steady.”
▪ Two-time and defending champion Bubba Watson started the day 12 strokes behind Spieth. Things got worse immediately for Watson, who had a triple-bogey seven on the first hole. That was the beginning of an eventful round. He birdied four of the next five holes (with a bogey on No. 5) and finished with a 68. He’s 15 behind Spieth at 1-under par and 215 for the tournament and sounded defiant afterward.
“You can say it,” he said. “I’m out of it. But I got two (Masters titles) so I’ll be able to sleep OK tonight.”
▪ Charlotte’s Webb Simpson hasn’t been in contention since Thursday, but he’s at least playing the weekend and is 14 shots back after shooting an even-par 70 Saturday. The major difference in Simpson’s game this season is his switch to a regulation putter, ahead of the ban on long putters that will go in to effect in 2016.
Simpson is fully committed to the switch, so much so that he broke his old long putter in half before playing in November’s Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan. Simpson’s wife Dowd watched him do it, but wouldn’t let him throw it away.
“It’s in the trophy case now,” said Simpson. “I wanted to fully commit to the short putter and the switch has been better than I anticipated. I didn’t want to have it there in case the (regulation) putter goes bad. I won the U.S. Open and four PGA Tour events with it, but I’m done with it and am moving on.”
▪ If Hoffman doesn’t win Sunday, he will at least still have his green glove. He wears the green golf glove for his sponsor, Waste Management, which disposes of waste in environmentally (green) manner.
High of 81, partly sunny, with a 20 percent chance of rain.