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On cusp of 1st Masters title, Spieth is new face of U.S. golf

Jordan Spieth, center, talks to golfer Charley Hoffman, right, as caddie, Brett Waldman, left, looks on as they walk the second fairway during third round action of the Masters on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at Augusta National Golf Club.
Jordan Spieth, center, talks to golfer Charley Hoffman, right, as caddie, Brett Waldman, left, looks on as they walk the second fairway during third round action of the Masters on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at Augusta National Golf Club. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Before 21-year-old Jordan Spieth began his domination of this Masters tournament, 63-year-old Ben Crenshaw was asked what he sees in his fellow Texan.

Four decades ago, Crenshaw was what Spieth is today, the game’s new golden boy with a future as wide as their native Texas sky. In the same week that Crenshaw has played his 44th and final Masters, Spieth is a day away from winning his first in just his second try.

“When I first met him, I tell you I’ll never forget it,” Crenshaw said. “I looked right at him and he looked at me and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He looks at you and he’s going to gun you down.”

Earp was a lawman, among many other things, who survived the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral and is the stuff of legend.

Spieth is on the cusp of creating his own legend.

But now comes the hard part.

Spieth will take a four-stroke lead over Justin Rose into the final round Sunday at Augusta National. And despite an unexpected double bogey on the 17th hole late Saturday afternoon, he still has control of this championship, if not quite the death grip he once had on it.

Spieth is 18 holes away from winning his first major championship, earning a lifetime spot under the big tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse and further stamping himself as Rory McIlroy’s most serious rival for the golf’s global throne.

Saturday was one of those days that only the Masters gives us. It was warm and sunny, the azaleas were showing off, and at one point, the names of Mickelson, Woods and McIlroy were stacked on top of each other on the leader board.

Rory made a run. Tiger looked like Tiger again. Phil kept smiling and making birdies.

And no matter what any of them did, Spieth kept going.

Spieth wasn’t flawless – he made three bogeys and a double bogey to give hope to Rose and Phil Mickelson (five back) entering the final round. But through 54 holes, Spieth is 16-under par, the lowest three-round total in Masters history.

The numbers and the margin may be unexpected, but Spieth’s name atop the big white scoreboards scattered around Augusta National is no surprise. In his three PGA Tour starts before the Masters, Spieth won once and finished second twice.

That’s what most of us would call a great roll. Not Spieth.

“I don’t look at this as a run,” Spieth said last week at Houston, where he was beaten in a playoff. “I look at this as the way I should be playing. If I look at this as a run, it means the normal me is something less than I am right now. I can’t think of myself that way.”

That’s confidence, not cockiness. Spieth has as much confidence as Texas has cowboy boots and he wears it perfectly, which is why he’s the new face of American golf.

“What a player,” golfer Ernie Els said. “You just cannot see this kid not win many, many majors. I think he is by far the most balanced kid I’ve seen.”

“He’s got that little tenacity to him and he’s really got a fighting spirit, and he’s the nicest kid in the world.”

A year ago, Spieth led his first Masters with 12 holes to play on Sunday then it evaporated and Bubba Watson won. Not winning bothered Spieth, who understood he’d have many more chances at Augusta National but believed he’d let an opportunity slip.

“Last year definitely left a bad taste in my mouth and I’ve definitely been looking to get some revenge, but there’s a long way to go,” Spieth said.

Rory McIlroy was the same age as Spieth four years ago when he took a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters. McIlroy shot 80 on Sunday but didn’t have the Masters experience Spieth already has.

“I think the good thing for him is he’s already experienced it once,” McIlroy said. “He’s played in the final group at the Masters before. It didn’t quite happen for him last year, but I think he’ll have learned from that experience. I think all that put together, he’ll definitely do a lot better than I did.”

After a sloppy double bogey at the par-4 17th that felt like ice water down the back, Spieth put his approach shot into the greenside gallery at the 18th. He was in full wobble, and it felt as if the tournament was shifting.

Spieth then saved par with a flop shot that perhaps only 21-year-old nerves will allow, made his par and went off into the night four strokes ahead and taking dead aim on finishing what he has so brilliantly started.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.

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