Only four shots separate the top 13 golfers on the leader board three days into the 78th Masters Tournament.
Everybody who knows the Masters knows what that means. There’s going to be a defining round of golf Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club. The man who wins the Green Jacket will have solved the mysteries of a majestic golf course and in the process answered every question about himself and his game.
When Bubba Watson allowed a once-formidable lead to slip away, there was no shortage of challengers eager to take advantage. Jordan Spieth, a 20-year-old Texan who is perched on the edge of greatness, stepped up to shoot 2-under 70 and claim a share of the lead with Watson at 5-under 211.
Watson, who had a five-stroke lead early in the third round, shot 74. With a victory Sunday, Spieth, who will be 21 on July 27, will become the youngest Masters champion in history. Tiger Woods was 21 years, three months and 14 days old when he won the first of his four Green Jackets in 1997.
Spieth would also become the first golfer since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win his Masters debut - in only his second full season on the PGA Tour.
“Augusta National is kind of heaven on Earth for me,” Spieth said. “This is a place I’ve always dreamt about. I felt it was perfect for my game, and so far, so good.”
Third place is shared by Matt Kuchar (68) and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (71), another of the celebrated first-time participants in the Masters. They are one stroke behind at 212.
Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez (66) and Rickie Fowler (67) had the two best rounds of the day. They are at 213. England’s Lee Westwood (70), Jim Furyk (72) and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn (73) are tied for seventh at 214.
Four golfers are tied for 10th at 215. They are Justin Rose (69), Masters rookie Kevin Stadler (72), Fred Couples (73) and John Senden (75).
Watson said his emotions are under control despite the poor round.
“If somebody had told me Monday I’d shoot 74 and still be tied for the lead, I’d take it all day long,” said Watson, who saved important pars at the 17th hole and then again the 18th. “I knew if I could make that par putt I would be in the final group.”
That’s where Watson and Spieth want to be. They will play together in the final pairing at 2:40 p.m. Sunday.
“We joked about it on the range when they were going to the tee,” Watson said. “[Spieth and his caddie] said, ‘We'll see you in the last group on Sunday.’ And I was like, ‘You'd better play good.’ But obviously I should have played a little bit better. It's fun. It will be good. He's a great player obviously. A guy like that, he obviously has no fear. And his game is just going to get better and better.”
If Spieth wins Sunday, that entire process will be accelerated for him.
“We are all trying to do the same thing,” Watson said. “We are all going to be nervous, and we all know what it means to our career, for our status to move forward in the game. So it's going to be tough for everybody, not just guys that have never won one.”
The possible plots are many, and all are enticing.
Bjorn said he played “the first 10 holes as good as I probably ever played at Augusta.”
“When you walk off the golf course with 73, playing golf to something in the 60s, that's disappointing,” he said. “But I’m still in there with a chance. And I'm going to try to play 18 holes tomorrow like I did the first 10.”
Blixt said, “This is where I want to be. I want to have a chance on Sunday, and that's what I play for.”
A victory by either Jimenez, 50, or Couples, 54, would make them the oldest champion ever, older than Jack Nicklaus who won his sixth Green Jacket at the age of 46 in 1986.
Jimenez, who celebrated his 50th birthday on Jan. 5, acknowledged it would “mean a lot” to add a major to his résumé.
“I have plenty of victories in my career, and having a major in my career would be amazing,” he said. “That would be the flower on top. I will try to. If I can play golf and control the ball, I have my chances. If you are close there, you have chances.”
Couples hasn’t given up the possibility of winning for a second time. The 1992 Masters winner has 11 top-10 finishes in his favorite event on his favorite golf course.
“For me, it's just a lot of fun,” he said. “When I came to my first, it was exciting. This year is no different. I'm playing pretty good golf, and I have a shot of shooting some silly round to maybe win. It's going to take a 65 or 66. But you never know.”
U.S. Open champion Rose managed to get around with a 3-under-par round despite four putts at the second hole.
“There are a lot of players I think are going to be in with a chance (Sunday),” Rose said. “Anybody under par going into tomorrow has a good shot.”
Westwood is trying to end an 0-for-63 streak in major championships. He had top-three finishes in Augusta in 2010 and 2012.
“Anywhere within five, even six, shots of the lead going into the final round of the Masters is given a good chance, especially with the way the golf course is playing out here,” Westwood said. “Augusta is one of those places where I feel like I can get around. And I felt like I know how to get around here, even if I'm maybe not on my game. But I've hit the ball well this week, and that's why I'm in contention.”