Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth charged into Masters contention Sunday, threatening the greatest last-round comeback in Augusta National history even as fellow American Patrick Reed clung to a three-stroke lead.
An emotional drama with golf history at stake was set to unfold at Augusta National’s back nine with Reed on 14-under, having played the front nine at level par, and Spieth second at 11-under after sinking a 27-foot birdie putt at the par-3 12th.
On the same hole where Spieth endured a quadruple-bogey 7 meltdown in 2016 that cost him the lead when seeking back-to-back Masters wins, Spieth moved to 6-under on his final round.
Sharing third as Reed made he turn were Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, 1-over on the day and struggling, Spain’s Jon Rahm and American Rickie Fowler.
Jack Burke set the record Masters last-round comeback to win at eight strokes in 1956, but Spieth was nine adrift when the round began.
McIlroy needed a back-nine spark to have any hope of his fifth major title and first green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam — a win in each of the four major championships.
Reed, who hadn’t cracked 70 at the Masters until this week, could become the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a Masters and could break the 72-hole tournament record of 18-under 270 shared by Spieth and Tiger Woods.
The Masters champion receives the iconic winner’s green jacket and $1.98 million from an $11 million purse while the runner-up takes $1.18 million.
Reed began with a three-shot lead over McIlroy on 14-under, saw his margin drop to a single shot, then restored his original gap.
McIlroy’s first stroke evoked memories of a 2011 horror show 10th-tee shot, his off-course blast going deep into the trees n the right with Reed in trees to the left.
Both reached a greenside bunker but McIlroy saved par while Reed two-putted for bogey from 45 feet.
McIlroy’s impressive approach at the par-5 second left him four feet for eagle but he missed the putt and settled for birdie while Reed missed a 10-foot birdie putt and settled for par.
At the third, Reed powered in a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe and McIlroy missed a 10-footer for par, restoring the American’s three-shot edge.
The bogey ended a run of 32 consecutive holes without a bogey for McIlroy since the par-3 sixth in his second round.
But McIlroy answered by dropping his tee shot four feet from the cup at the par-3 fourth and making his birdie putt, moving back within two of Reed.
McIlroy missed a 5-footer to bogey the fifth, then Reed answered a bogey at the par-3 sixth by dropping his approach at two feet from the cup to set up a birdie at seven that left him 14-under and McIlroy three back, as they began.
When McIlroy took bogey at the par-5 eighth, he fell into only a share of second alongside hard-charging Spieth and Rahm.
Eight of the past nine major winners were first-time major winners and Reed, a 2017 PGA Championship runner-up, Rahm and Fowler could continue that run.
– Big shots on last day –
American Charley Hoffman aced the par-3 16th with a 6-iron, the 20th time the hole has surrendered a hole-in-one.
And England’s Paul Casey flirted with a course record 63, 9-under par, before closing with back-to-back bogeys for a 65.
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson carded a 67 to finish on 2-over 290 and 2012 US Open winner Webb Simpson made back-to-back eagles at the seventh and par-5 eighth.
– Tiger roars late –
Woods, playing his first major event since 2015 in a comeback from nagging back pain and spinal fusion surgery, fired a 69, his week’s low round.
“It was possibly the highest score I could have shot today,” Woods said. “All in all it was a bittersweet ending.”
The 14-time major champion sank a 29-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th and birdied 17 but a closing bogey denied his goal of level par overall.
Woods, a four-time Masters champion, last won a green jacket in 2005 and last won a major at the 2008 US Open. He failed to deliver on promise showed in two top-5 tuneup finishes but said he was glad to be back.
“I really missed it,” Woods said. “This was great, to be back, to be able to play in a major again. I made too many bogeys. I made too many mistakes. But overall it was a lot of fun. It felt great to be able to compete again.”