AUGUSTA, Ga. — A word of advice for American golf fans who lamented a rare weekend at the Masters without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson:
No need to fret. You’re going to love the new kid.
His name is Jordan Spieth, and at 20 years old, he’ll be the youngest ever to play in the final pairing at the Masters. After shooting a 70 in the third round Saturday to tie Bubba Watson for the lead at 5-under par, he could become the youngest Masters champion ever, because he’s seven months younger than Tiger was when he won in 1997.
After the round, Michael Greller was the new encircled man, the caddie for Spieth, a wildly skilled Texas kid with eye-opening maturity.
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Greller, a former sixth-grade teacher at Narrows View Intermediate School near Tacoma, was offering a pack of reporters his insight on an impressive day when Spieth emerged from the scoring cabin with a surprised grin.
“I’ve got to take a picture of this,” joked Spieth, who first hooked up with Greller when he won the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain in Bremerton.
Spieth probably should be taking a multitude of mental snapshots from his first Masters field trip.
Of the massive galleries that are falling in love with his skills and serenity.
Of the 70 he shot Saturday — four birdies, two bogeys — showing a surgeon’s equanimity under elevating pressure.
Of the Sunday pairing that puts him in the final group, 11:40 a.m. tee time, alongside Watson, the 2012 green jacket winner.
“It’s all brand new experiences,” Greller surmised. “Kind of feels like we’re playing with house money. And I think we’re just too dumb to know where we’re at.”
Right now they’re on the doorstep of history with Spieth gunning to become the youngest major winner in 83 years.
It’s possible because Watson lost his putting feel and seemed to play with his nails dug into a cliff throughout the third round, ultimately carding a 2-over 74. But he never fully lost the lead and remains in prime position to win a second Masters, if he can just soothe his anxiety.
He and Spieth share their one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar (68) and Jonas Blixt (71) while nine other players will start the final round under par.
Rickie Fowler carded one of the five rounds Saturday in the 60s, uncorking a six-birdie effort for a 5-under 67 that has him tied for fifth. And the third round’s biggest charge came from 50-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, whose 66 tied him with Fowler after 54 holes.
Spieth and Watson sit atop a leaderboard packed tightly as a bunch of azaleas, with 23 players within seven shots of the lead.
Spieth had planned a Monday practice round with Crenshaw and Tom Watson, but rain wiped it out, so he and Greller consulted Carl Jackson, Crenshaw’s Augusta confidante. “It’s funny, I told Michael I was going to buy a T-shirt for him that says, ‘Carl Says,’ because he keeps saying that to me out there,” Spieth said. “We’ll have to get that made.”
With one more age-defying round, Spieth might need to color-coordinate that T-shirt with a green jacket.
“I’m 20, and this is the Masters, and this is a tournament I’ve always dreamt about,” he said. “Like Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody.”
Be thankful, American golf fans. On a weekend without Tiger and Phil, you have a young player worthy of your affections.
Couples holds tight
Even in his 50s, Fred Couples has made plenty of noise in the first two rounds at the Masters the past few years.
But those strong rounds have been followed by struggles on the weekend.
He avoided that, for the most part, Saturday. After two rounds of 71, Couples fired a 1-over-par 73 to remain in the hunt. At 1 under, he is four shots back.
“It feels like when I came my first year; it’s always exciting,” said Couples, who grew up playing at Jefferson Park in Seattle. “This year is no different. I’m playing pretty good golf, and I have a shot of shooting some silly round to maybe win, but it’s going to take a 65 or 66. But you never know.”
Couples’ round started with a bogey on the first hole, and he had four more – on Nos. 4, 5, 12 and 17.
But he had four birdies — on Nos. 2, 11, 13 and 14 — to stay in the hunt.
“I played OK,” said the 54-year-old Couples, who won the tournament in 1992.
The Chicago Tribune and Macon (Ga.) Telegraph contributed to this report.