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Jordan Spieth falters but leads Masters by 1

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Another march to a Masters title for Jordan Spieth suddenly turned into a walk on the wild side Saturday.

The defending champion finished in the lead for a record seventh straight round at Augusta National. He was one round away from becoming only the fourth player to win back to back in 80 years of the Masters. But he sure made it hard on himself.

Spieth had a four-shot lead as he stood on the 17th tee. The wind that had caused so much havoc earlier in the round had subsided. Playing partner Rory McIlroy was out of the picture after another nightmare day for him at Augusta. And then it all changed with two wild tee shots, two poor wedges and three dropped shots.

And just like that, the Masters was wide open.

"It was a really tough finish to go from holding a four-shot lead … to where all of the sudden, now it's anyone's game," Spieth said. "I'm in the lead after 54 holes. If you told me that at the beginning of the week, I'd be very pleased. So it's mixed feelings right now."

A bogey and a double bogey gave Spieth 1-over 73 and a one-shot lead at 3-under 213 over Smylie Kaufman (69), playing in his first Masters. It also gave plenty of hope to a cast of challengers that included 58-year-old Bernhard Langer (70) and Hideki Matsuyama (72), who were two shots behind.

Looming at three back were world No. 1 Jason Day (71) and Dustin Johnson (72). Eleven players — even McIlroy, who didn't make a birdie, shot 77 and was 2 over — were within five shots of the lead.

"I think it will be tough to put it behind me," Spieth said of his finish. "Hopefully, I'll sleep it off and I'll be fine (today)."

Spieth still put himself in more rare company with his round. He became the third player to hold the 54-hole lead, outright or shared, in three straight Masters, joining Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer. The last defending champion to hold the 54-hole lead or co-lead was Tiger Woods in 2002. He is also the last to win back-to-back titles.

Kaufman, who qualified for the Masters by shooting 61 in the final round to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October, used to spend his summers playing junior golf against Spieth. He kept his stress to a minimum and rallied with three birdies over his last six holes for 69.

Kaufman, 24, and Langer, were among just five players who were under par on another gusty day. The others were Jason Day (71), Lee Westwood (71) and Louis Oosthuizen (71).

No one has won a green jacket on his first try since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

This will be the first time Kaufman has played in the final pairing on Sunday in any PGA Tour event.

"This place fits my eye pretty well," Kaufman said. "I just enjoy playing, coming out every day. It's Augusta National. It's hard not to have some fun out there."

The biggest surprise was Langer, who won the second of his two Masters in 1993 about three months before Spieth, 22, was born. Playing alongside Day — and usually playing from some 60 yards behind him — Langer plodded his way around in the wind and ran off three birdies on Nos. 13-15 for his 70.

On the 30-year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus becoming the oldest Masters champion at 46, Langer has a chance to become the oldest winner of any major by 10 years. Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA Championship when he was 48.

Can he really win?

"I believe I can," said Langer.

McIlroy — who has four career rounds of 77 or worse on weekends in majors, all at the Masters — said he felt like he was swimming upstream for much of his day.

"I was always trying to get something going, and I just couldn't," he said. "I felt like I righted the ship the last seven holes. I made seven pars coming in and had a lot of chances coming in, but I didn't take any opportunities."

The Golf Channel, PGA Tour and ESPN contributed to this report.

Jordan Spieth falters but leads Masters by 1 04/09/16 [Last modified: Saturday, April 9, 2016 10:32pm]
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