AUGUSTA, Ga. — Beauty, tradition and drama. They’re the holy trinity of Masters week.
On the final day of worship at Augusta National Golf Club, it looks like we’re going to get all three after all.
Jordan Spieth’s lead bounced from huge to enormous Saturday. A birdie on the par-3 16th put him to 18-under-par and seven clear of Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson, who bogeyed the 17th just ahead.
But on 17, the Jordan Spieth Coronation Invitational took a shocking turn. He double bogeyed the par-4 from the left grove of trees while Rose birdied 18 ahead. Spieth only managed a four-stoke final advantage because he saved par from someone’s souvenir bag in the gallery right of the final green.
The at times robotic Mr. Spieth is actually human after all.
The Masters’ 54-hole scoring record is his (16-under 200), but Augusta National’s tailor hasn’t been summoned to the Butler Cabin just yet. The seven-stroke lead had melted to four over Rose and five over Mickelson, with the nearly anonymous Charley Hoffman lurking another stroke back in a best supporting golfer role.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy? The world No. 111 and the world No. 1 will be two groups ahead of Spieth on Sunday, seemingly, hopelessly, completely out of it, 10 strokes back of the 21-year-old leader.
But what if one of them goes out and throws a record-tying 63 on the board to get to 15-under? What then? Victory is still likely in Spieth’s grasp, but what if Tiger or Rory post a round that makes his palms sweaty?
Spieth may well go out and shoot the kind of Sunday score that makes Sunday as exciting as folding sheets, like a 21-year-old Woods did, with a final-round 69 in 1997 to complete his 12-stroke romp to history.
But, well, there’s always a but. Like Greg Norman the year before Woods, going from a sure conquest with a six-stroke Saturday night lead to a Sunday afternoon massacre, shooting a 78 to Nick Faldo’s 67 to lose by five.
“This place is littered with spectacular crashes,” the freshly retired Ben Crenshaw reminded Saturday.
The Augusta National 500 still has 18 dangerous laps left, full of just as many curves as the track for Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.
No one wants to see Spieth wind up all broken axles and smoking under an azalea bush. But we’d all like to see a little spine-tingling excitement. The kind of final-act fireworks we’ve become accustomed to from this tournament.
Four strokes is a formidable lead. But four strokes can be a vapor in just a couple of holes. Augusta National rewards good shots but punishes bad ones in equal measure, and a few of those at the right time could have Spieth staring at eye level with one of his pursuers.
Spieth winning would be a spectacular story, a statement win for a young man already being labeled as the next great American player.
But Rose was the British version of Spieth once, too, tying for fourth as a fresh-cheeked amateur in the 1998 British Open. Now a seasoned campaigner of 34, he knows how to track Spieth down.
The most tantalizing subplot belongs to Mickelson. At 44, Lefty isn’t consistent enough to be regular threat to win on the PGA Tour.
But he can still summon up some righteous stuff for the important moments. He finished a stroke back of McIlroy at last year’s PGA Championship and, clad in an Arnold Palmer-favorite coral colored shirt, Mickelson rattled the dogwoods and pines with a 67 to snap back into contention.
It’s a traditional black shirt for Sunday, Mickelson said, proper attire for a salty veteran trying to make another plundering raid. If Mickelson pulls this off, he’ll pull even with Palmer and Woods with four green jackets, a win that would just rank behind six-time winner Jack Nicklaus’ feat at 46 in 1986.
“NFL studies show black shirted teams get more penalties,” Mickelson said. “It gets me more aggressive.”
Uh, huh. Thanks, Phil, for that illuminating explanation.
Now, say no more. Just go hit ’em and find ’em, fella.
And give us something to shout about.
We’ve had the beauty. We’ve seen the history.
Now we want the goosebumps.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.