AUGUSTA, Ga. — Both golfers who will be in the final pairing of a suddenly scintillating Masters have been through all of this Augusta on Sunday excitement before. Bubba Watson did it in 2012, when he won the green jacket in a playoff. And Jordan Spieth did it often in his imagination while practicing putts as a little kid — which was not all that long ago.
That is only half of the story. Because Watson failed to extend his second-round lead and fell back to 5 under par, bringing a big crowd into contention. Thirteen players — including four major champions — are somewhere between 5 under and 1 under, poised to test the adage that the Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday.
“I’m 20 and this is the Masters, this is the tournament I’ve always dreamed about,” said Spieth, who shot a poised 2-under-par 70 round on Saturday and starts the day tied with Watson. “Like Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody. As far as being patient, shot-to-shot, I think I’ve done the best that I ever have with my mental game.”
With a win Sunday, Spieth would become the youngest champion in Masters history. He knows enough about that history to realize how hard it will be. He prepared for it by hitting pitch shots in his yard, over a neighbor’s tree, and pretending to win the Masters when he was learning the game at Brookhaven Country Club in Texas. Spieth was savvy enough to seek advice from fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw, a two-time winner here, and Crenshaw’s caddie Carl Jackson, who has carried in 53 Masters.
“I was going to buy a T-shirt for (my caddie) that says, ‘Carl Says,’ because he keeps saying that to me out there,” Spieth said.
Watson can rely on his own experiences — the ones from two years ago, more than the ones from Saturday. He did eagle the second hole to go 8 under and birdied No. 10, to get back to 6 under. But his putting stroke was not as smooth and confident as it had appeared during the first two rounds. He shot 2-over-par 74, with pars on the par-5 13th and 15th feeling like bogeys for a big hitter like him.
“You have to keep looking at where you’re at. You’re still winning so you can’t get down,” he said. “If you’re going to get down when you’re still winning, then you’ve got issues. And I do have issues, but … “
He smiled when he said that. He also insisted he won’t be uneasy waiting to tee off at 2:40 — after the likes of Matt Kuchar and Jonas Blixt (4 under) and Rickie Fowler and Miguel Angel Jimenez (3 under).
“I’m good at sleeping,” Watson said. “You always have that dream as a kid. So when you get here, you hear the same roars and you want to be part of those roars. On Sunday, that’s a big deal because that’s the day they give out the green jacket … I’ve won one, so I’ve got that going for me. If I play bad tomorrow, I still have a green jacket.”
Spieth does not believe a previous champion has an advantage. He added that he will address his playing partner as “Mr. Watson.” Watson, when told of that, replied, “That’s fine. When I’m hitting it past him …
“Love the kid. Good family, good upbringing. Love the caddie,” Watson said, recalling that the last words to him from Spieth and caddie Mike Grellen on the range before the round Saturday were, “We’ll see you in the last group on Sunday.”