Professional / PGA Tour

In similar position as in ’15, Jordan Spieth enters final round of Masters with different mindset

Jordan Spieth, pictured at the 2016 Masters
Jordan Spieth, pictured at the 2016 Masters (Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Somebody might need to remind Jordan Spieth that he owns the 54-hole lead – once again – at the Masters. A year ago, he departed into the night on the eve of the final round with a four-shot advantage after shooting 70, and he was feeling in complete control. This time, he will head into Sunday after sleeping on a far different vibe.

Spieth made two poor swings coming in, and it cost him. Two tee shots sprayed right, and he finished bogey-double bogey, and instead of knocking out a good portion of the field heading into the final round, he doled out a heaping dose of hope. Instead of leading by four, he now leads Masters rookie Smylie Kaufman by one, and among those lurking within three shots are World No. 1 Jason Day, World No. 8 Dustin Johnson, World No. 12 Danny Willett, World No. 14 Hideki Matsuyama, and a two-time champion who plays a completely different tour – 58-year-old Bernhard Langer, the Ponce de Leon of golf.

Spieth, 22, ranked second in the world, made a mental mistake at the par-4 17th (hitting driver instead of 3-wood) and hit an uncharacteristically poor wedge into the final hole after punching out from the right trees, his ensuing three-putt from 50 feet transforming what had been a pretty solid day into a third-round 73 that left a pit in his stomach.

“I have absolutely just got to throw this finish away,” he said. “I understand that this is the position I wanted to be in after 54 holes, and not think about the finish.”

Well, even Spieth said that is something far easier said than done, even if he has found himself atop the leaderboard at the Masters for a seventh consecutive round.

“It’s going to be very difficult (to throw away the finish),” he said. “As I look at the leaderboard now, if I can just make three pars to finish – I played the last three holes, the last two days, 5 over par. There was no challenge in those holes, really.

“If I’m at 5, 6 under . . . even just saying that right now, I can’t think that way. That certainly brings anyone who is over par almost out of the tournament. And now with very little wind tomorrow, someone gets on a run and shoots 6 or 7 under, 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.”

Jordan Spieth hits his tee shot at the par-3 12th Saturday at the 2016 Masters. / Getty Images

A year ago, Spieth coasted home with a final-round 70 and won by four. The golf course also was vastly different, and far more scoring-friendly. He led through 54 holes a year ago at 16-under 200; this time, he’s at 3 under, or 13 shots higher. But still leading.

So on Sunday, his work is going to be considerably more difficult. Kaufman, 24, is playing the Masters for the first time, but he has shown to be a quick study. He won in Las Vegas last autumn in his fifth PGA Tour start and has seemed immune to the usual nerves a rookie experiences at Augusta.

A first-timer has not won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979; Kaufman, who grew up just four hours away in Birmingham, Ala., entered this week at Augusta as a 300-to-1 underdog.

“I feel real comfortable out there,” he said. “The golf course fits my eye. We’ll see. I’m not trying to overlook the situation. I know what’s going on. I know it’s the Masters. I know how important it is. But I’m just going to go out there and just do my best. I think that’s all I can do tomorrow, and just not try to force it and just try to have some fun.”

The good news? The Masters winner has emerged from the final pairing in 21 of the past 25 Masters.

Rory McIlroy, needing a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam at age 26, played alongside Spieth in the final pairing and failed to make a single birdie, plummeting out of the top 10 by shooting 77.

For three days, Augusta has played firm, fast and confusing. Swirling winds gusting as high as 32 mph on Saturday led players to doubt the shots they were attempting to play, and those who did not totally commit paid. Spieth faced such a shot at the devilish 12th, which measures only 155 yards. The flags and the tree tops showed right-to-left downwind; Spieth decided to play the shot as if he were going straight into the wind. After the ball started piercing the air, Spieth said, “I’m kind of like backing up, like I have no idea where this ball is going to land. That’s a unique feeling. We don’t get that very often.”

And what if he had gone with the thought that the wind was helping him? “I wouldn’t have cleared the water,” he said. He made 2 on the hole, a nice bounce back after both he and McIlroy had made a mess of the 11th, making doubles.

Spieth’s finish may have left a sour taste, but he’ll pull down Magnolia Lane on Sunday in a familiar position. As tournament leader, he’ll have control of his own destiny at the Masters, and as a fierce competitor, he loves that. After a week that has included a handful of mental errors and uncharacteristic mistakes, Spieth still has battled hard enough to own the lead. And now he enters Sunday at Augusta chasing his third major in his last five major starts. He’s the guy to beat.

But first, he knows one thing must change.

“I can’t rely on the putter the way I did today,” Spieth said. “I’ve got to strike the ball better. That’s what leaves me a little uneasy compared to last year. I had a four‑shot lead and we were, what, 16 under? I relied on my putter on Sunday last year, and it came through. Can’t do that every single round.”

Show Hide