Saturday is traditionally known as “moving day” in professional golf tournaments. Contenders play well enough in the third round to set themselves up for a possible victory on Sunday.
Saturday at the Masters was also moving day, but instead of moving up, the contenders went up and down. This was especially true of defending champion Jordan Spieth.
Spieth, the world’s second-ranked player, leads at three under par, but a terrible finish shrank his margin from four strokes to only one. Only four golfers finished the day below par.
The heavy winds sweeping through Augusta National Golf Club had something to do with that. Spieth started the day with a one-shot lead over third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. McIlroy failed to make one birdie all day and shot a 77 and finished at two over par.
Unheralded Carter “Smylie” Kaufman fired a three-under 69 to finish at two under, just one shot behind Spieth. Bernhard Langer, who won his first Masters in 1985 before Kaufman or Spieth were born, had a 70 to finish at one under.
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan was the only other golfer in red figures at one under. The world’s number one player, Jason Day of Australia, finished at even par just three strokes behind.
Coming to the 17th hold, Spieth held a four-shot lead at six under. He sent his tee shot well right and wound up with a bogey.
On 18, he was even further right off the tee. He laid up, then three-putted for a double bogey six.
“I really shouldn’t have hit (the) driver on 17 in the position I was in,” said Spieth. “I should have hit 3-wood; make sure I at least had a chance to hit the green. Live and learn.”
Spieth does have some positives to fall back on. He is the first player to ever lead at the end of seven consecutive rounds of the Masters. He led wire-to-wire last year.
On Sunday, he will attempt to become only the fourth player to win back-to-back green jackets. Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are the other three.
The weather forecast calls for calmer winds, which should lead to increased opportunities for birdies. No fewer than 11 players are within five shots of the leader. Spieth will try to clear his head and think positive thoughts.
“I’ve got to throw away the finish to this round,” he said. “This is the position I wanted to be in – leading after 54 holes – and not think about the finish to today’s round.”
Golf fans will be watching Spieth closely, but will Smylie Kaufman be a household name at the end of the day?