21-year-old will take a four-stroke lead over Justin Rose into the final round at Augusta

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — So the kid is human after all.

Jordan Spieth, 21, certainly wasn’t playing like a mere mortal through 16 holes Saturday in the third round of the Masters at Augusta National when he had taken a seven-shot lead with three birdies in a four-hole span.

But Spieth made a double bogey on the 17th hole, and a couple of minutes later Justin Rose closed his round with a birdie. Suddenly, Spieth’s lead entering Sunday was four shots over Rose and five over three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, with an anxious night undoubtedly ahead.

“When I look back, 2 under I thought would be a good score today,” said Spieth, who shot a 70 Saturday and is at 16-under 200. “Obviously, being 4 under (through 16) and closing it out at 2 under is disappointing.”

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How big of a difference is that late three-shot swing?

No player in PGA Tour or major championship history has blown a lead of at least seven shots entering the final round.

But a four-shot lead can disappear quickly here. The last player to hold a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Masters also was 21, Rory McIlroy in 2011. He shot an 80 that Sunday and tied for 15th.

Spieth can take some solace that the late damage could have been worse after hitting his approach long and right on the 18th hole. He hit a perfectly executed flop shot over the bunker and it rolled about 10 feet past the pin. He then made the putt for an important par save.

“That up-and-down on 18 might have been a 1-in-5 (chance of saving par),” he said. “That just took some guts. If you had caught me a year and a half ago, I probably never would have played that shot in that scenario.”

And the putt?

“It was one of the bigger putts I’ve ever hit,” he said.

By saving par, Spieth set the lowest three-round score in tournament history, beating by one shot the scores of Raymond Floyd in 1976 and Tiger Woods in 1997, who both went on to win.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, seemed like an unlikely contender when he was 2 over through five holes and at 5 under overall. But he finished with five birdies in his last six holes, including holing out from a bunker on the 16th and making a downhill putt of about 20 feet on the 18th.

“I guess the key moment for me was when I was talking with my caddie and I said, ‘Listen, we just need to be a little more committed,’ ” Rose said.

A short while later, he birdied the seventh hole and by the time he was finished he had worked himself into the final pairing.

“Given the choice, you’d want to be in the last group,” he said. “You want to be seeing what you’re up against; you want to feel the atmosphere.”

Mickelson, who shot a 67, will try to apply pressure on that final pairing.

“It’s what motivated me in the offseason, four or five days a week to get up at 5:30 and work out, dreaming of this, giving myself an opportunity in this tournament,” he said. “Granted, I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow and I’m quite a ways back. A good round though and it could be fun.”

Spieth, unlike McIlroy in 2011, has previous experience being in position to win the Masters. Spieth shared the lead entering the final round last year and led by two shots through seven holes before finishing second to Bubba Watson.

Now, there are only three players who are less than 10 shots behind Spieth (Charley Hoffman is six shots behind).

“It didn’t quite happen last year, but I think he’ll have learned from that experience,” McIlroy said. “I think he’ll definitely handle it a lot better than I did.”

Spieth said he thinks so too.

“I feel comfortable with the way I’m striking it,” he said. “My putting stroke feels good. So all in all, I’ve got to watch my speed (on putts) and just have enough patience tomorrow.”

After Saturday’s third round at Augusta National, par 72 (36-36).
Player To par
Jordan Spieth -16
Justin Rose -12
Phil Mickelson -11
Charley Hoffman -10
Also notable
Tiger Woods -6
Rory McIlroy -6
Ryan Moore -3