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AUGUSTA, Ga. – History isn’t on Jordan Spieth’s side.
The last 31 Masters have been won by a player starting the final round in the top 5 – Spieth is seventh after his even-par 72 in Saturday’s third round.
The last 28 major championships have been won by a player within four shots of the lead after 54 holes – Spieth is six shots back of pace-setting Hideki Matsuyama, whose 65 moved him to 11 under.
And no player in Masters history won the green jacket when making a triple bogey or worse that week – Spieth made triple on the ninth hole in the first round.
But this is Spieth we’re talking about. And this is the 25th anniversary of Greg Norman failing to hold a six-shot lead after 54 holes as Nick Faldo raced by him to win the 1996 Masters.
And Spieth has a golf bag full of experience when it comes to extracting himself from tight spots and testing predicaments. Yes, the deficit is daunting, but there is only one Masters champion in the top 12 on the famous white leaderboards – Spieth, who won in 2015, finished second in 2014 and 2016 and third in 2018.
And of the players between Spieth and the leader, only one player – 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose – has won a major, and Spieth has three.
Spieth likely would have told the gathered media that 18 holes is more than enough golf to make up ground, especially at Augusta National where one yard could be the difference between putting for birdie or chipping for your life.
That is, if he had talked after his round. Spieth declined to be interviewed and instead headed to the practice putting green for a 10-minute session in the fading light. During another one of his bungee jump rounds, his putting left him steaming as he burned edges throughout and he needed to cool down with putter in hand.
It was a round of 72 – but all 72s are not the same. You get the feeling Spieth is a member of the Flying Wallendas. Or at least has a starring role in Cirque du Soleil.
Every time he looks like he’s out of it, he pulls himself back in. Just look at what he did on the eighth hole. Better still, start at the seventh hole.
From a prime spot in the fairway, he sent his approach over the hole – an absolute no-no on the 7th hole. His third wound up in the bunker and he made double that dropped him to 3 under and six back.
So, on the eighth, a poor drive and a worse second put him deep in the Georgia Pines, 94 uphill yards from the pin. But then he turned into Houdini once again and from off the pine straw he hit his third past the hole and the ball backtracked off a slope to short range for birdie. His magical touch continued on the 10th, where he chipped in for birdie from in front – and well below – the green.
He had another heart stopping moment on the 15th when his second on the par 5 landed just far enough to hold the green. One yard shorter and he would have been dropping after watching his ball roll into a pond fronting the green. But he was dry, and a two-putt birdie moved him closer to the lead.
But he three-putted from 45 feet on the next hole and then parred in.
Dismiss his chances if you want, but this is a guy who has been trending in the right direction for some time. He was 125-1 to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year. While he didn’t pay off his backers, he did ignite his ascension toward becoming Jordan Spieth again by tying for fourth.
The following week he tied for third at Pebble. Three weeks later he tied for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Last week, he won the Valero Texas Open – his first victory since capturing the Claret Jug with his wizardry at Royal Birkdale in the 2017 Open Championship.
So, the stage is set for Spieth, who might pull off his greatest trick this week by overcoming all the history that stands against him and win his second green jacket.
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