The golf gods are smiling kindly on us this weekend as they have offered up a dream pairing of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in the final group on Saturday. The world no. 2 vs. the world no. 3. Arguably, the biggest superstars in the game at the moment. No, you don’t need to ask me to pinch you. You got that right. Rory vs. Jordan at Augusta National.
This was always going to happen at some point, but the fact that it’s this weekend is amazing, not to mention Spieth was generous enough to not run away from the field in the super tough conditions Friday afternoon (or Rory kindly didn’t shoot his way out of the tournament by now).
We’re excited. Aren’t you? Yep, meet you by the lounge chairs to kick our feet back at 2:50pm ET. It’s a date! — you get the popcorn, I’ve got the pimento cheese.
Naturally, WE are much more excited about this dream pairing than Rory or Jordan. They both tried to downplay it, emphasizing they’re just focused on playing the golf course, not each other.
“Not really,” said McIlroy in his post-round presser when asked if playing with Spieth would make a difference for him. “It would add a lot of excitement and buzz and atmosphere to the tournament, obviously.
“I’ve said this from the start, I’ve been concentrating on myself out there, because if you start to think about anyone else ‑‑ I’ve only got the mental capacity to focus on me right now and especially how tough it is out there. Just focusing on myself, battling and grinding and digging deep when I need to; I think I’m going to have to do that again tomorrow regardless of who I play with, because it looks like the conditions are going to be similar.”
What do you think, Jordan?
“I’d rather be playing with someone less threatening to be honest,” said Spieth. “He’s certainly proven himself in majors. But I think it’s going to be fun, a really fun challenge.”
Together, they have won four of the last six major championships, and until recently when they let Jason Day take the throne, they’ve been swapping spots for the no. 1 ranking in the world for the majority of the last two years.
McIlroy did something crazy early-ish on Friday and stayed patient — despite his rollercoaster start — and at the end of the day, he posted a very solid, one-under 71 in difficult conditions on what were described as “crusty” greens for a three-under total at the halfway mark, which only puts him one stroke behind Spieth, who posted a hard-fought, two-over 74, his first non-subpar round out of 10 at Augusta National.
“If anything, I don’t really look at the names on the left of the leaderboard,” said McIlroy. “I’m looking at the number that’s on the very far right just to see how many shots I’m back. Doesn’t make a difference to me who it is up there.
“I want to win this golf tournament and I want to finish on the lowest score possible, and whoever that is ahead of me at that point, I just want to finish one better than that. So it doesn’t make a difference who it is, to be honest.”
Spieth had an emotional and somewhat of a tumultuous round, as he battled not only with the wrath of Mother Nature, but also with pace of play. After bogeys on nos. 9 and 10, Spieth’s group was informed that they had fallen behind and were officially put on the clock on the tough, intimidating par-4 11th.
After hitting his approach to the front of the green, about 70 feet from the pin, Spieth yelled in frustration, “We’re on the clock! I want to take my time, but we can’t!”
Although he birdied the 15th, he gave two shots back with bogeys on nos. 16 and 17. He made a 14-footer for par on the last just to keep his narrow lead over McIlroy.
“It was a good break at the end and certainly a made putt like that, you can carry some momentum, and it just stopped the bleeding at the end the round,” said the defending champ who led by five at this point a year ago.
“But I don’t necessarily see the same significance. It’s one shot. But again, that one shot can very much help me going into tomorrow. It makes me smile walking off the green versus wondering how you just went bogey, bogey, bogey. There’s definitely a difference‑maker there.”
This will mark the first time Spieth and McIlroy have been paired together the weekend of a major championship. They have played 12 rounds together on the PGA Tour. McIlroy holds a 6-4-2 edge and almost a two-stroke scoring advantage (69.75 to 71.67).
“I should be concentrating on myself and thinking about what I need to do to win this golf tournament, regardless of who else is up there,” said McIlroy, who is only a green jacket shy of completing the career grand slam — a feat only five players have achieved in history.
“I really need to focus on me and focus on everything I need to do well to hopefully be sitting up here on Sunday with one of those on.”
Rory? Jordan? Who you got? One thing’s for sure — it’s going to be a fun weekend at an already-memorable Masters.