Another day, another scoring record set by Jordan Spieth. The 21-year-old Texan fired a two-under 70 to post a total of 16-under, 200, for the lowest 54-hole score in Masters history, breaking the previous record held by none other than Tiger Woods in 1997 and Raymond Floyd in 1976.
Spieth leads Justin Rose, who made a magnificent curling 20-footer on the 18th hole, by four shots, and a charging Phil Mickelson by five. Thing is, it could’ve been more. At one point late in the back nine on Saturday’s thriller at Augusta National, Spieth had a seven-shot lead when he got to 18-under after rolling in a birdie on the par-3 16th.
However, on the following hole, he made what he described as a poor decision on the 17th tee by hitting driver instead of 3-wood — that along with a poor chip cost him as he ended up making his first double-bogey of the tournament, dropping him back to 16-under as he headed into the finishing par-4 18th.
“We knew 17 was a par hole,” said Spieth, who finished second last year in his Masters debut. “Driver should never have come out of my bag at that point. Not that I’m playing any differently than if I were tied or behind, but it’s a downwind hole. I was getting a little erratic with the driver and I can hit 3‑wood, 8‑iron in there and have a 20‑footer to 2‑putt.
“I was very frustrated with that decision, given I don’t want decision making to ever cost me in an event like this.”
From the middle of the fairway on 18, Spieth fanned his approach shot into the gallery right of the green, leaving him with a very difficult chip. It was one of those moments for the youngster to either show weakness or greatness. It was also potentially either a massive momentum-builder or momentum-killer. Naturally, it was no problem for Spieth, who has a knack for getting up-and-down from the most challenging of places under pressure. He hit a beautiful flop shot, landing it perfectly on the fringe before it checked up and stopped about five feet past the pin. And, of course, he made the putt for a significant save as he heads into arguably the biggest round of his young career.
While in my mind there was hardly ever a doubt that he wouldn’t get up-and-down — perhaps because I have so much faith in his short game, especially as of late — it certainly wasn’t a given. In fact, Spieth even said the odds were against him.
“(I’m) very pleased with that up‑and‑down on 18 — that may have been a 1‑in‑5,” said Spieth. “That just took some guts, and having been in this scenario or having been in contention enough, having been on Tour for a few years, I felt comfortable enough playing that full flop.
“If you caught me a year and a half ago, I probably never would have played that shot in that scenario. So it was nice to have seen that go that way, to play the aggressive play, and to close it out with a nice putt. Seeing any putts go in on 18 is nice.”
That putt was major (see what I did there?!) for his mindset going into the final round. Had he failed to save par, his lead not only would have been cut to three, but it also probably would have hurt his confidence and momentum as he tries to close the deal and capture his first green jacket.
“It was really big,” said Spieth. “It was huge. It was one of the bigger putts I’ve ever hit.”
He admitted to being frustrated at the moment, particularly after making double-bogey on the previous hole. However, he managed to calm himself, and as he’s emphasized all week, stay patient.
As he has in the previous rounds, Spieth drained quite a few key putts, which is good for his confidence but he also knows he can’t continue to put that much pressure on his putter.
“What I learned about myself is that I saw a lot of putts go in today,” he said. “That’s something in the weekend under pressure that’s kind of hurt me a little bit, and recently I’ve been making a lot of putts.
“The downside of it was that I had to make a lot of putts today with five dropped shots, and I’m not going to be able to have that tomorrow. I can’t rely on my mid‑range putts. I can’t rely on the putter that much to save me with two major champions right behind.
“They are going to bring their game and I’ve got to make ‑‑ I’ve got to have a relatively stress‑free round going; and when I say that, I mean give myself some tap‑in pars and not have to make so many putts.”
Spieth, who played in the final pairing a year ago, will work on continuing his mantra for the week.
“I’ll just take patience,” he said. “I think I’ve said it each day in here and before the tournament: There’s going to be roars. Phil is going to have a lot of roars in front. Obviously a few groups up I think is Tiger and Rory…you’re going to hear something there.
“But especially in the group in front of us, 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.
“In our group, Justin is going to do the same and Charley is going to do the same. It’s about just throwing those out of my mind, not worrying about it, not caring, setting a goal and being patient with the opportunities that are going to come my way.
“I feel comfortable with the way I’m striking it. My putting stroke feels good. 14 and ‑‑ what did I have, three 3‑putts today I think, and a couple that caught the center of the hole that may have given me four or five feet left. So all in all, I’ve got to watch my speed and just have enough patience tomorrow.”
Does Jordan get it done tomorrow? In my opinion, yes, but he’ll have to fend off Rose and Mickelson, who are four and five shots back, respectively.
Mickelson shot a thrilling five-under 67 to wow the crowds on the back nine at Augusta National on Saturday. He’ll be going flag-hunting in the final round and you can never count him out, especially at the Masters, which he’s won three times.
“I’ve won three times here wearing black shirts, so I’ll wear a black shirt tomorrow. It also helps me get more aggressive,” said Phil. “Studies have shown, like NFL teams, when they wear black, they have more penalties. That’s what I need to do tomorrow is play more aggressive.”
Spieth will be paired with Rose, who got off to a slow start but caught fire on the back nine, which included a huge birdie on the 18th.
“Obviously when I made the putt that got me one ahead of Phil and got me into the final pairing,” said Rose, who won the 2013 U.S. Open. “That’s going to be a big experience tomorrow, fantastic experience. Jordan is playing incredible golf. It would be great to keep an eye on him and try and to sort of keep pace.”
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who are both at six-under for the championship, are playing together in the third-to-last group. They’re likely too far back to make a realistic charge. We’ll see. One thing’s for sure — it’s going to be a dramatic Sunday at the Masters.