Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Sergio Garcia, chasing his first major title after 73 failed attempts, and Justin Rose, seeking a green jacket to go with Olympic gold, teed off Sunday sharing the final-round lead at the Masters.
Another dramatic finish seemed assured at Augusta National as a star-studded lineup of contenders faced the famed 7,345-yard layout in the year’s first major tournament.
Potential eagles and possible mishaps awaited the world’s greatest shotmakers with crowds ready to scream in delight, their roars echoing through the Georgia pine trees.
“This course gives you some opportunities out there but there can be some trouble as well,” Rose said as he prepared to start his final round Sunday. “You have to stay committed to the shot.”
Rose and Garcia were deadlocked on six-under par 210 after 54 holes, one stroke ahead of American Rickie Fowler with 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth and US compatriots Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore on 212.
Garcia, a 37-year-old Spaniard, could finally claim a long-sought major on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol Seve Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I don’t even know how much it would mean,” Garcia said of winning Sunday. “It would be nice to have a chance and hopefully do it.”
Garcia has the third-most major starts of any player without a major title, trailing Englishman Lee Westwood’s 75 and the record 87 by American Jay Haas.
– Get the job done –
Rose, who won his first major at the 2013 US Open, captured the first Olympic golf crown since 1904 last year in Rio. The Englishman shared second at the Masters in 2015 behind Spieth.
“It’s very difficult to not let your mind wander, to think about what it would be like to win, but you’ve still got to get the job done and those thoughts don’t necessarily help you do that,” said Rose.
Spieth, who also captured the 2015 US Open, was a Masters runner-up last year after a Sunday back-nine meltdown. He and Fowler were in the penultimate group behind the European duo.
It would be a historic victory fightback for Spieth, who opened on 75 and finished the first day 10 strokes behind pace-setter Hoffman.
The largest 18-hole deficit ever overcom to win the Masters was seven strokes by Tiger Woods in 2005 and Nick Faldo in 1990.
Spieth fired a 68 on Saturday, running of a two-day span of 29 consecutive holes without a bogey that included nine birdies.
In three days, Spieth has three pars at the par-3 12th, where he fired a quadruple bogey in last year’s final round in a collapse that helped England’s Danny Willett capture the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy.
The biggest 54-hole deficit by any winner was eight strokes by Jack Burke in 1956.
That margin could open the door for a comeback by a host of major winners, including Australia’s Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters winner in seventh on 213 after 54 holes, and South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner in eighth another stroke adrift.
Sharing ninth on 215 were Westwood and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, trying to become the first Masters debutante to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
World number two Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion, was in a pack on level par and needing an exceptional round plus a fade by the leaders for any realistic hope at a victory to complete a career grand slam.