AUGUSTA, Ga. — While Jordan Spieth is trying to become the youngest Masters champion in history Sunday, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Fred Couples are looking at things from the other end of the spectrum.
Jimenez made it apparent Saturday that he isn’t just the most interesting man in golf.
The 50-year-old cigar-smoking, wine-loving, pony-tail sporting Spaniard showed he still has a lot of game left, and he’s threatening to become the oldest major champion.
Jimenez shot a tournament-best 6-under-par 68 in the third round of the 78th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club to pull within two shots of the lead at 3-under 213. Spieth and Bubba Watson share the lead entering the final round at 211, and Jimenez is tied for fifth.
“If you are 50 it doesn’t mean that you cannot play well,” Jimenez said. “I’m still moving. I’m still flexible. I still hit the ball. … I love what I’m doing, and I hope I’m still in the same condition for another 25 years. I’m not going to get bored of myself.”
Couples, 54, is four shots off the lead and tied for 10th at 1-under 215.
Julius Boros became the oldest major champion when he won the 1968 PGA Championship at the age of 48, and Jack Nicklaus is the oldest Masters champion at 46.
Jimenez bogeyed the 12th and made seven birdies, and not necessarily on birdie holes. He birdied difficult par-4s 10, 11 and 14, and also birdied holes 3, 5, 13 and 16 to rebound from a second-round 76. He said he was more patient Saturday.
“[Friday], not being patient and stressing myself, those things, you pay the bill, and then you’re the whole day off your pace, off your rhythm,” Jimenez said. “The main thing is to keep that pace, keep that rhythm and keep on your song. That’s the main thing, that’s the secret to the golf course.”
Jimenez has 20 European Tour wins, including this year’s UBS Hong Kong Open. His best Masters finish in 14 previous appearances is a tie for eighth.
“I feel fantastic,” Jimenez said. “I like the feeling of the knot in my stomach. I feel that thing since Monday when I got here. It doesn’t disappear. I love that kind of pressure. I love that thing. That’s why I’m still competing.”
Couples had his worst round of the tournament with a 1-over 73, but he did enough to keep himself in contention, bucking a trend from the past two years.
He entered the third round in the lead in 2012 and second last year but faltered with rounds of 75 and 77, respectively, to fall well off the pace.
“My average went down,” Couples said. “I’m not smart enough to know what 75, 77 and 73 is, but it wasn’t bad. I actually played OK.”
The 1992 Masters champion remained within striking distance at four shots back by rallying for a back-nine 35 that included birdies on holes 11, 13 and 14 following a 2-over 38 on the front. He fell out of a tie for seventh with a bogey on the 17th.
“I’m playing pretty good golf and I have a shot tomorrow of shooting some silly round to maybe win, but it’s going to take a 65 or 66,” said Couples, whose low Masters round is a 66. “But you never know.”
Knocking off Rory
The legend of Jeff Knox grew a little more Saturday.
Knox is the Augusta National member in his 50s who is the designated marker for the club when an odd number of players make the cut and one needs a partner for the first tee time in either the third or fourth round.
The Augusta businessman played with two-time major champion Rory McIlroy on Saturday, and carded a 2-under 70 to outplay McIlroy by a shot despite the PGA Tour player making three birdies on the final four holes.
“I thought he was going to be nice and three-putt the last and we would have a halve, but he beat me by one,” McIlroy said. “… I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does around here. He was really impressive. I was thinking of maybe getting him to read a few of my putts out there.”
It’s not the first time Knox has defeated a playing professional, as he has reportedly defeated Sergio Garcia and Craig Stadler in past years. His best round as a Masters marker is reportedly a 69.
Knox’s course record from the shorter members tees of 61 has stood since 2003.
While playing with Miguel Angel Jimenez one year, he outdrove Jimenez off the first tee and Jimenez looked back while walking off the tee and wagged his finger at Knox in jest, suggesting it wasn’t appropriate to outdrive the tournament competitor.
“He played just like he should be playing in the Masters,” McIlroy said. The duo played in 3 hours, 15 minutes.
Knox will likely play with 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize on Sunday. Don’t bet against him.
Woodland goes low
A Masters record was matched Saturday.
Gary Woodland was in the fifth group out in the third round and promptly shot a 6-under 30 on the front nine to match a tournament record set by Johnny Miller in 1975 and matched by Greg Norman in 1988, K.J. Choi in 2004 and Phil Mickelson in 2009.
Woodland birdied the first hole, eagled the second and birdied the sixth, eighth and ninth holes, and even birdied the 10th to reach 7 under for his round and 4 under for the tournament. Walking off the 10th green “I was slowing down a little bit, trying to catch my breath,” Woodland said. “I was in a groove. I mean I had it going.”
On the remainder of his back nine, Woodland bogeyed the 11th, doubled the 12th, birdied the 13th, and bogeyed the 14th and 18th holes to shoot 69 and is tied for 14th at even par. He was unaware he had matched a record.
“That’s pretty cool,” Woodland said. “It feels great. Hopefully I get the back nine tomorrow.”
He told a family member Saturday morning that he was going low. “I just felt it,” the long-hitting Woodland said. “I played really well on Thursday and [Friday] I was just off with the driver. I fixed it [Friday] night on the range. I felt great and I rode it today. I drove the ball beautifully today until the last couple of holes. I will rest tonight and hopefully have a low one tomorrow.”
Augusta National announced Saturday that the purse of the tournament will be $9 million, with $1.62 million going to the winner and $972,000 going to the runner-up.
The player who finishes last among the 51 who made the cut will earn $19,980 and payouts decrease from there.
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