This is what the Green Coats wanted. After two days of waving flagsticks and magnolia blossoms that danced in the stiff Georgia breeze, springtime returned to Augusta, and birdies, sorely lacking in the first two rounds of this Masters, lit up the leaderboard and made this one of the more compelling Saturdays in recent major-championship memory.
Hunter Mahan, watching at home, summed up Saturday as simply and accurately as anyone when he tweeted, “Crowded leaderboard. A dozen players can win right now.”
Among that dizzy dozen are three past Masters winners, an Olympic gold medalist, six of the top 15 players in the world and a wealth of terrific ballstrikers in desperate search of their first major victory. It sets up a final round full of guys who have one-name status in the game: Sergio, Jordan, Rosie, Rickie and Adam. Others are gritty grinders: U.S. Ryder Cup hero Ryan Moore, 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, Belgian star Thomas Pieters and the first- and second-round leader, 40-year-old Charley Hoffman.
The story of the day was Jordan Spieth, who trailed by 10 shots at sundown on Thursday, a day when the 2015 Masters winner carded a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 15th. From that moment forward, Spieth has played Augusta National in 8-under par and hit some of the most creative shots of the year, including a punch-cut 6-iron around a tree on No. 7 that somehow skirted the menacing bunkers and found the fringe; an up-and-down par from dead-and-gone long behind the 10th green; and a 139-yard wedge on 15 that was a couple of rolls away from finding the hole for eagle.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 8, 2017
This is the first time in four Masters starts that Spieth will not play in the final group on Sunday. He’ll be in the penultimate pairing, but his worst previous finish is T2.
“I know that anything can happen,” Spieth said. “It’s tough protecting a lead on this golf course.”
That lead belongs to Sergio García and Justin Rose, that latter of whom had the lowest score (67) and the strongest close of the day, making birdies on five of the last seven holes to reach 6 under, while García, who had a Saturday average of 75 coming into this week, appeared patient and confident en route to a 70.
García also caught the kind of break that had fans wondering if the ghost of Seve wasn’t walking by his fellow Spaniard’s side. On No. 13, García’s second shot came up just short and spun back into the hazard. But the ball didn’t make it to Rae’s Creek. It hung on the steep bank, appearing to defy gravity. That was the same break Fred Couples got on the 12th when he won in 1992. And like Couples, García got up and down.
So many storylines, so much drama: No matter what, the final round of the 2017 Masters will not disappoint.