What was shaping up as a stroll in the pines to the green jacket today for Jordan Spieth turned, in the blink of an eye, into a possible shootout.
Spieth, who led by seven shots after 16 holes Saturday, stumbled near the end to turn the 79th Masters Tournament into a contest after all. His lead, over Justin Rose, is now four.
The 21-year-old Spieth, who had been rock-solid all day with seven birdies and three bogeys, made double bogey on the 17th hole, opening the door a crack for Rose, Phil Mickelson (five back) and Charley Hoffman (six back).
He bounced back from the late miscue to make a great par save on the final hole.
Spieth, who leads the field with 22 birdies in three rounds, continued his record-breaking run at Augusta National Golf Club with a third-round 2-under-par 70, leaving him at 16-under 200 for 54 holes. Spieth has broken both the 36- and 54-hole scoring records and needs another 70 to tie Tiger Woods’ tournament record of 18-under 270.
If Spieth wins, it will be the first time the sole first-round leader has won since fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw did it in 1984, and he would be the first wire-to-wire winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976.
Spieth said the chip shot from above the green on No. 18 had a “one in five” chance of leading to par. He hit the shot to within 9 feet of the hole and made the putt.
“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,” Spieth said.
The putt that allowed him to maintain a four-shot lead “was one of the bigger putts I ever hit,” he said.
Spieth, who opened with 64-66, led by three shots after the first round, five after the second and is now four up on Rose, who birdied five of his final six holes for 5-under 31 on the side and a round of 67.
Mickelson, who wore a pink shirt in honor of Arnold Palmer, made a charge throughout the day just like Arnie did on his way to four Masters titles. Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, shot 4-under-par 32 on the front nine and finished at 67.
“It’s not my color, it doesn’t look good on me, I don’t wear it well, but I had a premonition after spending time with Arnold Palmer,” Mickelson said. “He likes to wear this color. I just had a feeling that I needed to make a move. I had it in the bag and pulled it out.”
Mickelson won’t be wearing pink today. He’ll stick with black, the color he wore in the final rounds when he won here in 2004, 2006 and 2010. He’ll tee off in the second-to-last group at 2:40 p.m. with Hoffman, who shot 71.
Rose, who is trying to be the first Englishman to win the Masters since Nick Faldo in 1996, will tee off in the final pairing with Spieth at 2:50 p.m.
“I have a great opportunity tomorrow,” Rose said.
Spieth and Rose played together in the first two rounds in Houston last week, where Spieth shot 69-66 to Rose’s 69-68. Spieth went on to lose in a playoff while Rose tied for 37th place.
“Jordan is playing great golf,” Rose said.
So is Rose. He birdied Nos. 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18, including a holed-out bunker shot on No. 16.
Mickelson hopes to beat Spieth but clearly has a great deal of respect for him.
“He’s just a classy guy,” Mickelson said. “He just represents the game very well and at a very young age, and he’s just got a lot of game. So if he were to come out on top, it would be wonderful for the tournament, wonderful for the game. I’m going to try to stop him, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Spieth knows there will be roars behind him with Mickelson one group back and Woods and Rory McIlroy right behind them. Woods and McIlroy both shot 68 on Saturday and are 10 behind, as are Kevin Streelman (70 on Saturday), Kevin Na (70) and Dustin Johnson (73).
“There’s going to be roars,” Spieth said. “Phil is going to have a lot of roars in front.”
When told that McIlroy and Woods would be paired, Spieth said, “Well, 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.”
At 10 shots off the pace, Woods and McIlroy know history is against them. The biggest comeback after 54 holes in Masters history is eight shots.
“Look, I’m going to need something basically around 61, 62 to have a real chance,” said McIlroy, who bogeyed two of his final three holes. “I’m not sure that’s going to happen but we’ll see.”
“I’m going to have to put together a really special round of golf. And you just never know,” said Woods, who cited the 1996 Masters when Greg Norman blew a six-shot 54-hole lead and 2011 when McIlroy lost after leading by four shots with 18 to go.
Woods said “a lot depends on what the committee does. Today the greens were soft again, they were slow. We’re making ball marks with 4-irons in the greens. I don’t remember hitting a 4-iron to that flag and having it ever roll out to only about three feet. That’s just not normal here. So with that being said, you’re seeing guys be a lot more aggressive. Overall the field is making a lot more birdies than we’re used to.”