For the seventh consecutive round over the past two years in the Masters Tournament, Jordan Spieth has the outright lead at Augusta National Golf Club.
His dominance continued Saturday, but for only 16 holes.
Following a bogey on the 17th hole and a sloppy double bogey on the 18th, Spieth’s lead is a measly one stroke over Smylie Kaufman, and eight other players are within four strokes.
Spieth shot a 1-over 73 Saturday for his second consecutive over-par round following his opening 66, and leads at 3-under 213.
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“It was a really tough finish to go from really holding a four‑shot lead and being in a very similar position to last year to where all of the sudden now it's anyone's game, so it's tough to swallow that,” Spieth said.
Spieth entered last year’s final round with a four-shot lead after making a key putt to save par on the 18th to close the third round, and shot a 70 to win by four.
“Honestly, I think it will be tough to put it behind,” Spieth said. “I think I will, but that wasn't a fun last couple holes to play from the position I was in. It's not going to be fun tonight for a little while, and hopefully I just sleep it off and it's fine tomorrow. I imagine that will be the case. . . . I’ll probably go break something real quick, go have dinner and watch a movie. I’ll be fine.”
Behind Kaufman, a PGA Tour rookie who is making his Masters debut, 58-year-old two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer and Hideki Matsuyama are tied for third and two strokes back, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Danny Willett are three back, and Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker and Soren Kjeldsen are four back at 1-over 217.
“If I'm at 5‑, 6‑under … that certainly brings anyone who is over par almost out of the tournament,” Spieth said. “And now with very little wind tomorrow, someone gets on a run and shoots 6‑, 7‑under, you know, I know I have to shoot a significant under par round tomorrow in order to win this tournament, when I could have played a different style of golf like I did on Sunday last year.”
Spieth’s seventh consecutive round with a lead breaks the tournament record he shared with Arnold Palmer, who led six straight rounds in 1960-61.
But it will be a bittersweet record to hold if he doesn’t win, and he’ll regret the final two holes Saturday if he doesn’t hold on.
He’s seeking to become just the fourth player to successfully defend a Masters title, joining Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods, who was the last to do it in 2001-02.
He’s also in position to win his third title in the past five majors.
Spieth tied for second in his inaugural Masters in 2014 and is the first player to make the final Sunday twosome at Augusta for the third consecutive year since Ben Crenshaw from 1987-89.
“I certainly think that down the stretch I'm better prepared now than I was at this point last year,” Spieth said.
Spieth was playing solid golf at 1 under with two birdies and a bogey through 10 holes, which gave him a three-stroke lead on a third consecutive day of blustery winds at Augusta National.
His world class short game escaped him momentarily on the par-4 11th, where he knocked a short chip shot 30 feet past the hole and three-putted from there for a double bogey.
But he rolled in a 17-foot downhill birdie putt on the 12th hole to quickly get back to 4 under and added birdies on the 14th and 15th holes to reach 6 under and build a four-shot lead.
His drive on the 17th hole found the right trees to lead to a bogey, as did his drive on the 18th. He chipped out into the fairway but left his third shot on the front portion of the green, left his first putt 9 feet shy of a back pin and missed the bogey putt.
Spieth laments hitting driver on the 17th hole, and even questioned his decision on the tee but forged ahead with it.
“It should have been a very easy decision, up four with 20 holes to go,” Spieth said. “Downwind I could hit 8‑iron into the green if I hit 3‑wood, and it takes out most of the trouble.”
Spieth’s late struggles were the rest of the field’s gain, and no one benefited more than Kaufman, who is attempting to become just the third first-time participant to win the Masters, and the first since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Kaufman shot a 3-under 69 Saturday and played his final six holes 3 under with birdies on holes 13, 14 and 16.
“I’m really excited about today and look forward to tomorrow,” said Kaufman, a 24-year-old who played collegiately at LSU.
Kaufman planned to spend Saturday night with friends and family. “I’ll just hang out and try to keep it pretty casual and hopefully I sleep good,” he said. “I'm just kind of going with the flow and just going to try to play golf and just do the same thing I've been doing.”
Kaufman qualified for the Masters by winning the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, shooting a 10-under 61 in the final round to do so.
“The goal coming into the week was just get in contention,” Kaufman said. “And now that I'm here, you know, there's a lot of work left to do, but I’ll kind of readjust the goals a little bit and go try to win tomorrow.”
Matsuyama reached 3 under with a curling 28-foot putt on the 14th hole following two birdies and a bogey through 13 holes, and missed an uphill 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th that would have pulled him into a tie for the lead at the time. He followed the long birdie putt with bogeys on holes 16 and 17 to drop into a tie for third.
“I’ve got to go low tomorrow and I’ve got to make some putts, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on,” said Matsuyama, the 14th-ranked player in the world.
Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, who has a chance to complete the career Grand Slam this week, began the final round a shot behind Spieth and in the final group with him. But he shot a 5-over 77 to fall five shots off the pace.
The day began to unravel early for McIlroy with a bogey on the third hole, and he added bogeys on the seventh and 10th holes and a double bogey on the 11th, and didn’t make a single birdie Saturday.
“Just one of those days. You have to try to forget about it and move on,” McIlroy said. “To be honest with you, I would be feeling a lot worse about myself if I hadn't just seen what Jordan did the last two holes. I sort of take a bit of heart from that, that I'm still in this golf tournament.”