Jordan Spieth is three months shy of turning 21. Tiger Woods won his first Masters at 21. ASSOCIATED PRESS
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods might be missing from the Masters, but the specter of his greatness will loom large today at the Augusta National Golf Club.
While Bubba Watson will be trying to win his second green jacket in three years, all eyes at the 78th Masters will likely be on Jordan Spieth as he tries to break Woods’ record and become the youngest champion in tournament history.
“You just dream of what it would mean and how cool it would be and all those putts I hit when I was real young with my friends on trying to make it to win the Masters,” Spieth said.
Spieth, the 20-year-old wunderkind who has been receiving his Masters schooling from two-time champion Ben Crenshaw, will be paired in the final group today with Watson, the left-hander with the pink driver who won the 2012 Masters. Each will be trying to put their own historic imprint on the Masters.
They are tied at 5-under 211 after three rounds, holding a one-shot lead on surging Matt Kuchar and two-time PGA Tour winner Jonas Blixt of Sweden. Even though five other players are within three shots of the lead in the first major tournament of the season, the focus of the final round will center on the final twosome.
“Tomorrow is about seeing how I can control my game and my emotions against guys that have won here, even recently,” Spieth said. “They’ve been in this position, I haven’t. It doesn’t mean they have an advantage in any way. I’m confident in the way things are going.”
Woods was 21 when he won the Masters in 1997 with his record-setting 12-shot victory that served as a bellwether of his future greatness. Now Spieth has a chance to one-up the world’s No. 1 player and become the youngest winner in Masters history.
He also will be trying to become only the fourth Masters rookie and the first since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win the green jacket.
“He’s young, nerves are no big deal to him,” said Watson, who is trying to become the 17th player to win multiple green jackets. “I’ve won one, I’ve got that going for me. But if I play bad [Sunday], I have still got a green jacket.”
Then he added, “We’re all going to be nervous. We all know what it means for our status to move forward in the game.”
Watson and Spieth have several challengers behind them, none more prominent than Kuchar, one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour who shot 68 despite a bogey on the final hole.
Kuchar, who finished fourth at the Texas Open and lost a playoff to Matt Jones at the Shell Houston Open the past two weeks, is at 4-under 212. He has finished tied for third and tied for eighth the past two years at Augusta National.
“I’ve got a nice track record here the last two years,” Kuchar said. “But coming in with such good form the last two weeks I’m looking to build on that.”
Two other players are at 3-under 213, two shots back: Rickie Fowler, one of Watson’s good friends who shot 67; and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, who shot the low round of the tournament (66) and, at age 50, will be trying to become the oldest champion in Masters history.
Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk, and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark are another shot back.
Spieth began the day four shots behind Watson, the second-round leader, but he shot 70 with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 to grab a share of the lead.
His ascent has been remarkable since he left the University of Texas after his freshman season to turn professional. He began the 2013 season with no status on the PGA Tour, but he used sponsor exemptions to eventually post nine top-10 finishes, make the Presidents Cup team, and be named the tour’s rookie of the year.
Now, three months shy of his 21st birthday, he’s in position to win his first major championship and, in the process, make an impact on Augusta National similar to what Woods did in 1997.
“I'm 20 and this is the Masters, and this is a tournament I've always dreamt about,” Spieth said. “Like Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody.”
Watson, who began the round with a three-shot lead and increased the margin to five after an eagle at the par-5 second hole, made only one birdie the rest of the day and shot 74. As aggressive as he was in the second round when he made five consecutive birdies on the back nine, that’s how tentative Watson was on the final five holes when a wayward iron-game betrayed him.
“A lot of my bogeys were long and short, not left or right, so I’m not too worried about what went on,” Watson said.
Watson failed to take advantage of monster drives at the two back-nine par-5s – Nos. 13 and 15 – settling for pars that kept him from building his lead. He followed those disappointments with a three-putt bogey from off the green at the par-3 16th, dropping him into a tie for the lead.
Watson, though, was able to make a couple 5-footers on the final two holes to save par and get in today’s final pairing with Spieth.
“I wish I could make birdies on those holes, but I’m in a good situation,” Watson said. “A lot of people wish they’re in my situation, shooting 74. You can’t get down. If you get down when you’re still winning, you have issues – and I do have issues.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.