AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jordan Spieth says he addresses every man who is his elder with the respectful title of “Mister.”
So, he says, he’ll be addressing playing partner and 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson in the final twosome of the 78th Masters Tournament as Mr. Watson.
In fact, he’ll be addressing just about every adult he speaks to on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club with a prefix.
Spieth shot a 2-under-par 70 in Saturday’s third round to pull into a tie with Watson for the Masters lead at 5-under 211 as he attempts to become the youngest Masters champion ever and youngest major champion in the past 92 years at the age of just 20 in Sunday’s final round.
“I’m in a great position going into tomorrow, a position I haven’t been in before, but I’m excited about,” Spieth said. “I wanted to get into contention, not just as a goal to get into contention, but to see how I can perform on a Sunday [in a major]. And so that’s still yet to come.”
Watson began the third round with a three-shot lead but shot a 2-over 74 to fall into a tie with Spieth and bring several other players into the final-round mix.
Six-time PGA Tour winner Matt Kuchar shot a 68 to move within a shot of the lead and into a tie for third with Jonas Blixt of Sweden, who carded a 71 Saturday.
Rickie Fowler and 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain shot tournament-low rounds of 67 and 66, respectively, to pull within two of the lead in a tie for fifth, and Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk and Tomas Bjorn are all three shots back. Tied for 10th at 1-under 215 are major champions Justin Rose and Fred Couples along with Kevin Stadler and John Senden.
“Even though I played a bad round today, knowing that I’m in the final group, right there staring at the young kid, it will be fun,” said Watson, 35.
Tiger Woods is the youngest Masters champion, winning in 1997 at the age of 21, and Spieth, who turns 21 on July 27, would be the youngest major winner since Gene Sarazen won the 1922 PGA Championship and U.S. Open at a younger 20.
Spieth is also attempting to become the first player to win in his Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, and said his respect for Augusta National as a first-time participant has come easily.
“The way you gain respect for this golf course is the fact that it’s really, really hard,” he said. “As far as being patient shot-to-shot, I think I’ve done the best that I ever have with my mental game. Today I controlled it the best of my life and tomorrow I need to control it even better.”
Despite his performance, the stage of the Masters has taken Spieth a bit out of character. He has been audibly talking to himself on the course an abnormal amount this week, and said he has culled advice and knowledge about the course and tournament from fellow Texas native and University of Texas alum Ben Crenshaw and the two-time Masters winner’s longtime Masters caddie Carl Jackson.
“I’m 20 and this is the Masters, and this is a tournament I’ve always dreamt about and, like Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody,” Spieth explained. “My putter feels great and that’s leading to a lot of confidence in the rest of my game, and so I shouldn’t be talking too much to myself.”
Spieth alternated birdies and bogeys on the third, fourth, sixth and 11th holes – where he put his second shot into the water to the left of the green – then birdied the 14th and 15th holes for his 70.
While Spieth was playing solid golf, Watson was scuffling.
Following a bogey on the first hole, Watson appeared to take command of the tournament back with an approach to 5 feet for eagle on the par-5 second hole to get to 8 under and open up a four-shot lead.
But he hit a handful of marginal iron shots and got shaky with the putter en route to making bogeys on holes 4, 6 and 7, and he was just off the green and 20 feet from the pin in two on the par-5 eighth and essentially three-putted to make only a par. By then, he had fallen into a tie for the lead with Bjorn and Blixt, and they were soon to be joined by Kuchar at 5 under.
He stuck his approach to a couple feet on the par-4 10th to regain the outright lead at 6 under.
“It set up perfectly and I hit a good shot,” Watson said. “You can’t get down. I was still winning at that point, and if you get down when you’re still winning you’ve got issues. Of course I have issues, but. …”
Watson bogeyed the 16th and needed to scramble for pars on the final two holes. On the 18th, Watson hit trees off the tee but his ball ricocheted into the fairway. He then blocked his approach left of the green at the feet of spectators, chipped to 5 feet and saved his par to remain in Sunday’s final group.
“I knew that a par going into 18 was going to get me into the final group and that’s where you want to be,” Watson said. “It’s a lot better making that putt to win when you’re in the last group than having to wait.
“… You want to be part of those roars. On Sunday that’s a big deal because that’s the day they give out the green jacket, so it makes all of us nervous and makes all of us sweat a little more and makes every putt mean that much more.”
Spieth is already ranked No. 13 in the world, one spot behind Watson.
Without status on any tour last year, Spieth used sponsor exemptions to get starts on the PGA Tour and solidified his place with a win in the John Deere Classic. Thus far this season, he was a runner-up in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and has another pair of top-five finishes.
“For a 20-year-old, you know, he’s pretty savvy,” Couples said. “Not much bothers him. … Tomorrow, obviously, is going to be a really, really hard day to try to win this, but he’s well qualified to do it. He’s a top player.”
Watson and Spieth are friendly and attend Bible study together on the tour, and Watson professes to like Spieth.
Spieth said he has an ulterior motive to calling his playing partner Mr. Watson. “Just because it’ll mess with him,” he said.
Watson responded, “That’s fine, [he can] when I’m hitting it past him.”
It should be an interesting Sunday at Augusta National. Perhaps one for the ages.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.