Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth share the lead after 54 holes of the 2014 Masters at Augusta National
A number of players are still in the running for the Green Jacket after a pulsating third day in the 2014 Masters at Augusta National.
Bubba Watson started Saturday with a three-shot lead, and offset an opening bogey with an eagle at the par-5 2nd to move four clear.
But his characteristically twitchy demeanour was accentuated under the pressure of major competition, and he bogied 4, 6 and 7 to reach the turn in 38.
He birdied 10, but played his last eight holes in one over par – failing to birdie either 13 or 15 despite huge drives – to card a third-round 74.
That left him on five-under-par, tied for the lead with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who played some superb golf en route to a two-under-par 70 – his third consecutive sub-par score in a hugely impressive Masters debut.
Matt Kuchar compiled a fine 68 – which included a miraculous up-and-down from behind the 15th green – to reach four-under-par, alongside Masters debutant Jonas Blixt, whose immense short-game prowess propelled him to a third-round 71.
Earlier in the day, the evergreen and enigmatic Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a brilliant 66 to set the clubhouse target on three-under-par, and was joined moments later by young American Rickie Fowler (67).
Lee Westwood shot a 70 to sit just three back on two-under-par, alongside Thomas Bjorn and Jim Furyk.
Justin Rose is one further back on one-under-par following a 69, which included eagles at both 3 and 13.
In truth, Bubba was uninspiring, and vindicated doubts many had before the round pertaining to his ability to deal with pressure.
His swing became shorter and quicker during the round, he looked more and more flustered on the back nine and he left a number of putts short over the last few holes – a sure sign of nerves.
The word nerves, though, doesn’t seem to be a part of Jordan Spieth’s lexicon. The young American continues to defy his age and show no discernible weakness – an amazing statement when you consider he’s making his debut in a tournament where experience and course knowledge are seen as pre-requisites to success.
His journey to the top of the professional ranks has been absolutely sensational, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he’s ready to win a major championship.
But he’ll need to be on top of his game to claim the Green Jacket. Matt Kuchar looks a real threat just one off the lead, as does Jonas Blixt, another youngster who seems made for the big occasion.
In truth, anyone at level par, even one over, is still in with a chance. Pins are expected to be in similarly accessible positions and wind isn’t forecast, so a final-round 65 certainly isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
That will be the number in the minds of Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, who lie three and four shots back respectively. England hasn’t produced a Masters winner since Nick Faldo in 1996, and you’d have to think an eight-under-par 72-hole total would be in with a great chance.
Others to look out for in the final round include Rickie Fowler (-3) – who is swinging the club beautifully under Butch Harmon’s stewardship – and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who produced the round of the tournament, a 66, to move within two.
Ostensibly, the tournament is wide open. Indeed, some 15 players are within five shots of the lead. When you consider what happened on Saturday, you come to realise just how finely poised the 78th Masters is.