Thursday, February 22, 2018
Golf

Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose tied for Masters lead (w/ video)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Justin Rose charged from behind on the back nine at Augusta National. Sergio Garcia received the kind of break that allowed him to wonder if maybe the golfing gods are finally on his side after all these years.

Rose and Garcia wound up tied for the lead Saturday on a tense afternoon that set the stage for a Masters finale up for grabs.

As usual, the contenders include Jordan Spieth, two shots behind and in contention for the fourth straight year.

"(Today) is a huge day," Rose said. "I have an opportunity. That's all you want. But really, it starts on the back nine on Sunday. … You're going to have to go out and play a good round of golf, and I think there's going to be four or five guys pretty much with the same mind-set."

Rose could use another back nine like he had Saturday.

He was five shots behind until a tee shot to the left pin on No. 12 landed 5 feet from the cup, starting his run of birdies. He picked up two more on the par 5s and finished with birdie putts of 20 feet and 12 feet on the last two holes for 5-under 67.

Garcia hung his head in the 13th fairway when his 4-iron shot disappeared off a bank toward the tributary of Rae's Creek. Moments later, he realized the ball had bounced softly enough off the side of the bank to stop halfway down it. He chipped up to tap-in range, turning a potential bogey into a birdie.

"Fortunately for me, that bank seems to be a tiny bit longer this year, which is nice," Garcia said. "Because it gives you the possibility of getting a break like that."

Garcia, winless in majors in 73 previous appearances, finished his round by clenching his fist when a 7-foot par putt dropped into the cup for 70.

Garcia and Rose were at 6-under 210.

They had a one-shot lead over Rickie Fowler, who made birdies on all four of the par 5s to offset a few mistakes in a round of 71.

"I think it's going to be a long, hard-fought day," Fowler said.

Thrill of the chase

Perhaps the most daunting name at Augusta National is Jordan Spieth, who began this Masters with a quadruple-bogey 9 on the 15th hole of the opening round and was 10 shots out of the lead when he trudged off the course Thursday.

After the second round, he was four back. After the third, he was two back after a 4-under 68 that included a tribute to Arnold Palmer.

A 295-yard drive into the pine straw on the par-5 13th left him with a dicey decision. Caddie Michael Greller pushed for a layup from 228 yards, and Spieth agreed that was the smart shot. But then Spieth asked, "What would Arnie do?"

Greller responded, "Hit it to 20 feet."

Spieth cranked a 4-iron, and the ball cleared Rae's Creek by plenty, settling 29 feet from the hole. His eagle putt missed by an inch.

"I'm proud that I pulled that shot off," Spieth said.

Spieth, 23, won the Masters two years ago and was runnerup last year after losing a five-shot lead on the back nine. He had a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play in his debut in 2014 before Bubba Watson overtook him.

Saturday, Spieth almost seemed to relish the comeback he had only partially completed.

"A new experience for me, coming from behind on Sunday at the Masters, which is kind of fun to say," he said.

Fall from the top

Leading the Masters but with all sorts of big names behind him, Charley Hoffman finally seemed to sense the enormity of his position late Saturday afternoon.

When his ball splashed into the pond at No. 16, the advantage was gone.

"Wow," Hoffman mouthed on the tee box.

The 40-year-old American, once known for an unruly blond mullet but all cleaned up these days, squandered a chance to play in the final group today with a series of errant shots coming down the stretch. The leader after the first round and one of four co-leaders after Round 2, Hoffman shot par 72 in the third and was two shots back at 4 under.

"But I'm happy," said Hoffman, who has never won a major. "I'm two back. I've been playing good golf, and I'm really happy with where I'm at."

It's a puzzlement

If only Rory McIlroy could see Augusta National like the 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles he and his family work on back at their rental house as a challenge meant to be fun. McIlroy said after his second-round 73 that he was confident that he could vault up the leaderboard on moving day with a score in the 60s.

It turned out to be wishful thinking. McIlroy, a four-time major winner needing a Masters win for a career Grand Slam, birdied two of the first three holes but could not mount a concerted challenge. His 71 left him six strokes back.

"My best score here is 65," McIlroy said, "and I'm going to need something like that, if not lower, to have a chance."

Farewell to Els?

Ernie Els will play with a marker today in what could be his final round at the Masters. Even with a 65-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, Els shot 83. It was his highest score in 79 rounds at Augusta National. He had three double bogeys, and it got ugly at the end. He put his tee shot in the water on the par-3 16th, and he took two shots to get out of a bunker on the 17th. Els, 47, was in last place at 14 over, one behind Larry Mize.

This is the fifth and final year of Els' exemption from winning his fourth major at the 2012 British Open.

Number of the day

1 Major champion who was at least 10 shots back after the first round, Harry Vardon at the 1898 British Open (11 back). Jordan Spieth tries to be the second today.

Quotable

"It's win or go home. Finishing fifth versus 10th doesn't mean much to me."

Jordan Spieth, on his Sunday philosophy

   
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