McGirt falters late, stays in hunt at even par

Just making the cut in his Masters Tournament debut was a big deal for William McGirt.

Having accomplished that goal Friday, McGirt should have been one relaxed customer when he teed it up in Saturday’s third round at Augusta National Golf Club. Instead, it was quite the opposite.

“The first two days, I was dead calm – I told Brandon (Antus, his caddie) Thursday it was scary how calm I was,” McGirt said. “Today, I was amped up. I got a little quick, had a death grip on that driver and pushed it a little to the left there on one.”

PHOTOS: Saturday's Third Round

McGirt recovered from a slightly juiced opening shot to make par on No. 1, but couldn’t quite recover from errant tee shots on his final two holes. Both miscues led to closing bogeys, which dropped McGirt to 2-over 74 for the day and even par for the tournament, tied for 11th with five other players.

“It was just two really bad swings on 17 and 18 off the tee,” McGirt said. “I just didn’t have anything.”

Despite his second straight over-par round, McGirt has plenty to play for Sunday. At even-par, he’s only six shots off the lead held by Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.

Even if that gap is too great to make up, McGirt is in prime position to finish in the top 12 and earn an automatic berth into next year’s tournament. If making the weekend in his Masters debut was priority No. 1 coming into the week, a top-12 finish wasn’t far behind.

“Probably once I learned I was in the tournament,” McGirt said jokingly when asked when he started thinking about the top 12. “I would love to come finish top 12 here every year. We know what we’ve got to do tomorrow, so that’s the good thing. It’s not like we’re unsure, it’s not like we have to go out and shoot something crazy either. If I go out and shoot something crazy good, we might have a chance to win, so you never know.”

Starting the day 2-under and just two shots off the lead, McGirt vaulted himself right back among the leaders with early birdies at Nos. 2 and 5, making putts of 10 and 15 feet to get to 4-under. He immediately gave a shot back with a three-putt bogey on No. 6, missing from two feet for par, and dropped another when he couldn’t get up and down from the right greenside bunker on No. 10.

A golden chance to get one back eluded McGirt when he couldn’t convert a seven-foot birdie putt on 14, and then the late bogeys put a damper on an otherwise solid round.

McGirt will tee off at 1:35 p.m. in Sunday’s final round with Jon Rahm. And however the day finishes, the 37-year-old has already thoroughly enjoyed his Masters debut.

“It’s just fun,” he said. “There are so many friends and family here, so many people that I know from Spartanburg (S.C.) and from all around Carolina. I’ve heard ‘Go, Wofford! Go, Terriers!’ so many times. It’s awesome. And you know, it’s huge for our school and it’s huge for our community; it’s huge for where I grew up.”