Everywhere you look on the leaderboard from top to bottom, there’s someone with the pedigree who can win.
On this course, however, on this Sunday, there’s one name that stands out even among a cast of studs. The rest should be thinking one thing:
“If I beat Jordan Spieth, I win the Masters.”
That’s certainly been the rule so far every time Spieth has teed it up at Augusta National.
“Jordan Spieth is a huge threat to this tournament, certainly one guy I’ll look at immediately tomorrow,” said 2013 champion Adam Scott, who sits in seventh, one shot behind Spieth and three back of co-leaders Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
Spieth’s name deserves everyone’s full respect on a Masters leaderboard. He isn’t the intimidating presence that Tiger Woods was for a decade around this place, but his name resonates from the manual scoreboards much the same way.
This marks only the first time in four Masters starts that Spieth hasn’t held at least a share of the 54-hole lead at Augusta, but he managed to move ahead only one group from the back on the Sunday tee sheet.
“So, new experience for me coming from behind on Sunday at the Masters, which is kind of fun to say,” Spieth said after shooting 69-68 to rally back in the hunt after a quadruple bogey in Thursday’s first round that might have derailed most golfers. “We have a great history here. Really, really enjoy playing this golf course, enjoy the imagination that’s necessary.”
Spieth never imagined not being part of the Sunday conversation, even after falling 10 shots off the lead with an opening 75 that stands as the worst of his 15 rounds at the Masters. His mantra all week has been “What would Arnie do?” The camera mics picked him up saying that when he was deciding the best way to make birdie on the 13th hole Saturday.
“You have to play like Arnold Palmer to give yourself a chance at birdie if you expect to win,” Spieth said.
If you walked into Central Casting and asked for the prototype golfer who could dominate Augusta National, Spieth wouldn’t be the first model anyone would choose off the rack. The elements that made Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson multiple winners here over the past 20 years are obvious. They used power and aggression to shrink the course.
Spieth’s gifts are more subtle, but they’ve meshed almost perfectly in finishing second, first and second in three tries.
“I’m not sure,” Spieth said when asked to put his finger on it. “I mean, I guess the golf course was Tiger-proofed at one point. You can’t really Jordan-proof it. I don’t overpower it. My fairways hit is 55 percent. That’s not very good. These are very wide fairways.
“So to answer your question … it’s just been positioning. Playing the golf course the way that it’s supposed to be played to where par could be your worst score, giving myself short par putts. So it’s really just kind of thinking around it and using a bit of experience.”
Rose played in the final pairing in 2015 when Spieth tied Woods’ scoring record to win the green jacket, so he understands what he’s up against from the player in front of him. He acknowledges that “Jordan obviously has a special relationship with the Masters.”
“It’s a second-shot golf course, and he’s a good iron player,” Rose said. “He’s very sharp with that. He’s got a great golfing brain. This is a very strategic golf course and you have to make good, smart decisions out there. It tempts you at times. It can dangle the carrot. You need to be on top of your thinking, and he’s very good at that and his putting speaks for itself.”
That golfing brain brought Spieth back from the brink this week. He never gave in to frustration after his quad on No. 15 the same way he fought back after his quad on No. 12 in last year’s final round.
“It’s hard to be more resilient than we were last year after No. 12,” he said. “That was by far the most resilient I’ve ever been on a golf course in my life.”
In some ways, battling back this week has him more satisfied and eager for Sunday than he was the previous three years, when the leads came seemingly effortlessly.
“It was pretty easy getting into contention the last few years, given my starts were better,” he said.
Facing a Masters Sunday typically set up for a shootout, everyone knows that any one of perhaps a dozen players could get rolling and force the rest to chase. There’s no letting up with this cast of contenders.
“You’re going to have to make it happen,” Scott said. “I’m just going to need the round of the year for me.”
Spieth feels the same way. He knows first-hand that no lead is safe and anything can happen. He plans to force the issue – as Arnie would.
“I plan to play aggressive because at this point, it’s win or go home,” Spieth said. “So you pull off the shots and you make the putts. I want to give myself a chance for that to be enough. And if I don’t, then so be it.
“If I am able to jump out into the lead, I know that you have to keep the gas pedal down and pretend you’re not. And I know that if you fall behind, to stay patient and just recognize that.”
With everything at stake and so many stories to make, Sunday is set up to be memorable.
Who’s going to win? History is pretty clear on that.
The guy who beats Spieth … or Spieth.