Many times Sunday, you are going to hear or read about 21-year-old wunderkind golfer Jordan Spieth being ready to take the next step in becoming a major champion.
Not only does the cool-headed Texan still lead the 79th Masters Tournament, he set the tournament 54-hole scoring mark after his 2-under-par 70 on a comfortably warm Saturday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club.
His three-round total is 16-under 200, which eclipsed the previous Masters mark of 201, shared by Raymond Floyd (1976) and Tiger Woods (1997).
His lead is four strokes over England’s Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion who holed out from the bunker at the 17th hole and made a twisting downhill 18-foot putt at the 18th hole for finishing birdies and a 67.
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Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson also shot 67, and is alone in third place — five shots back of Spieth.
But it was Mickelson who also downplayed his position — grandstanding or not — after the round, noting that Spieth, while young, is a veteran of pressure situations.
“I don’t think it matters who is close to him,” Mickelson said. “He’s playing very good golf, and I think he’ll have a good round tomorrow. … He would be a great champion.”
And yet, you should also keep in mind what took place at the 2011 Masters where another 21-year-old phenom held what everybody thought was a safe enough four-stroke lead to cruise to his first Masters title.
His name is Rory McIlroy.
And in the final round, he fell apart to shoot 80. South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel came from behind to win the tournament.
“I think the good thing for him is he’s already experienced it once. He’s played in the final group at the Masters before,” McIlroy said. “He’ll definitely handle it a lot better than I did.”
Late into the round Saturday, Spieth was on another one of his determined marches through Augusta National. He reached the par-5 15th hole in two shots, and made birdie. And he curled in a 10-foot putt at the 16th hole for another birdie to suddenly enjoy his largest lead of the tournament — seven shots.
Game, set, match?
Not at this place.
Spieth got in trouble off the 17th tee, sailing into the trees left. He hit an escape shot just in front of the green, but faced a downhill pitch over a steep embankment, and another ridge just in front of the hole.
“When I got up there and saw it, no part of me liked it,” Spieth said.
His chip shot barely got to the fringe.
“I just barely caught the ground right at the ball,” Spieth said. “It has to be struck perfectly to be a good shot.”
Facing a 3-foot putt for bogey, his ball stayed left of the cup. The hole cost him two strokes of his lead.
And on the uphill finishing hole, Spieth’s approach shot sprayed way right into the gallery. It left him with an almost impossible pitch shot to a short pin — and to a green running away from him.
This time, Spieth showed the delicate short-game touch that has made him a world-class player. His high-arcing flop shot landed and bounced off the fringe, took one hop and trickled 9 feet past the hole.
Spieth sank the putt coming back to save par — and possibly most of the momentum he had built for three days.
“That up-and-down on (No.) 18,” Spieth said, “may have been a one in five. That just took some guts.
“I felt a little anxious (Saturday), but I actually felt more comfortable than I thought I would. It’s just so hard. I think I finished my (second) round 25 hours before I started my next round. And with a big lead, that is tough.”
The toughest part comes Sunday — closing out his first major triumph.
“You just never know,” Woods said. “You saw what happened in 1996 (when Greg Norman lost a six-shot lead). You saw what happened with Rory in 2011. You never know around this golf course.”