Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Jordan Spieth seeks his second consecutive wire-to-wire Masters triumph on Sunday while 58-year-old Bernhard Langer, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, debutante Smylie Kaufman and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy make their own runs at history.
Another intense back-nine drama was set to unfold at Augusta National, where blustery winds that played havoc with shotmakers have calmed to merely breezy but undulating, lightning-fast greens remain a formidable test for the world’s top golfers.
A bogey-double bogey finish by Spieth in Saturday’s third round left the 22-year-old American clinging to a one-stroke lead at three-under par 213 after 54 holes.
“I know I have to shoot a significant under par round (Sunday) in order to win this tournament,” Spieth said. “I have a feeling with the predicted forecast, these greens are going to bake out a little bit and it’s going to be still playing very difficult.”
Kaufman, a 24-year-old American trying to become the first Masters debutante to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, will play alongside Spieth in the final round after firing a 69 — the only sub-70 round since Thursday — to stand second on 214.
“I tend to play well on hard courses,” said Kaufman, whose Las Vegas victory last year earned him a second major start after missing the cut at the 2014 US Open.
“I’m driving the ball really well right now and if I’m going to get on the greens just as much as everybody else, I think that I’ll have a pretty good opportunity to be in contention, which it doesn’t surprise me.”
Spieth can join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only players to win back-to-back Masters titles. And he can become the first to do so in wire-to-wire fashion, his seven consecutive rounds with the outright lead already a Masters record.
World number two Spieth can also overtake top-ranked Jason Day of Australia to retake the top spot if he wins and the Aussie, who shared fifth on level par 216, ends outside the top five.
– A win for the aged? –
Sharing third on 215 were Germany’s Langer, poised to pull off one of the greatest shockers in sports history and become golf’s oldest major champion, and Hideki Matsuyama, a 24-year-old who was low amateur at the 2011 Masters and who placed fifth a year ago.
Langer won the Masters in 1985 and 1993, the latter title coming three months before Spieth was born, and his effort aroused memories of Tom Watson’s epic 2009 British Open run at Turnberry, where he settled for second at age 59.
“It really is incredible what he’s doing,” Spieth said. “These tougher conditions play into his favor — knowledge of the golf course and very good control of his swing and ball.”
Langer, ranked 1,080th in the world, would surpass the current major winner age mark of 48 set by Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship and the Masters winner age record of 46 set by Nicklaus 30 years ago.
“When I play really, really good, when I bring my A-game, I can still compete, and even on a very long golf course like this,” Langer said of the famed 7,435-yard layout.
Langer has had to adjust to the banning of his long-time anchored putting style in January, although he still uses a long putter in a non-anchored fashion, and his driving distance is well shy of his young rivals, but his knowledge of Augusta National is impressive in his 33rd Masters.
“There are different ways of getting there,” Langer said. “I can only play my game and see how that holds up.”
– Matsuyama makes his move –
Matsuyama was trying to become the first man from Japan to win a major and only the second male champion from Asia after South Korea’s Yang Yong-Eun at the 2009 PGA Championship.
“It’s probably going to take a 66 (to win),” Matsuyama said. “But if I think too much about shooting 66, it’s not going to happen, so I just need to focus one shot at a time.”
Third-ranked McIlroy, trying to complete a career Grand Slam by capturing the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy, was five adrift after a third-round 77.
Others lingered within reach but needing a solid finishing charge, including Day, American Dustin Johnson and England’s Danny Willett on 216 and a trio on 217 — Dane Soren Kjeldsen, England’s Lee Westwood and American Brandt Snedeker.