US Masters: Jordan Spieth opens door as McIlroy falters
A closing double bogey means Spieth will only take a one shot lead into the final round
Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt on the 17th green as Jordan Spieth looks on during the third round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images
And one of those with grand designs on procuring the green jacket was a throwback to another age as Bernhard Langer - defying his 58-year-old birth cert - contrived to assume a role as one of the chief pursuers.
For Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, though, it proved to be a frustrating and fruitless day. A day of crushed dreams! McIlroy, for the first time in a Major since 2010, failed to manage a single birdie. The 26-year-old Northern Irishman could only manage a round of 77 for two-over 218 as his quest to claim the final link in securing the career Grand Slam evaporated, whist Lowry struggled to a 79 for 223, seven-over.
“It felt more like a US Open than a Masters,” said McIlroy of the challenge players faced.
More aggressive game
But McIlroy refused to throw in the towel or raise a white flag of surrender. Although five shots adrift, his intention is to bring a more aggressive game to the final round in his bid to make a charge.
As he put it, “I think it is winnable from here. If Jordan hadn’t had that (double bogey) finish, I would probably say ‘no’. But he finished that way and the guys on two-over and three-over like myself feel we have a chance now. I just have to make sure I get off to a fast start and put some red numbers on the board and make a bit of noise to put a bit of pressure on the guys playing behind me.”
He added: “I need to regroup and stay positive and go out and attack (on Sunday).”
Three successive bogeys
Lowry at least managed one birdie - on the 15th - but his round ran away from him early on with drives that found bunkers on his opening two holes. He started with three successive bogeys and the wind was taken from his sails.
“It was tough, got off on the back foot from the word go....I’m going to go out (in the final round) and keep playing the way I’ve been playing, try to make a few better decisions and then sit back next week and have a look back. You definitely learn from days like today It’s tough, Major golf is tough, that’s the way it is suppose to be. I know for a fact if I keep positive then someday this course will suit me. I could do well here in the future,” said the Offalyman.
The two Irishmen weren’t alone in feeling the wrath of the course as winds, for the third straight day, wreaked a form of havoc where any shots less than perfectly executed were often heavily penalised. Yet, as if to defy logic, Langer - a two-time Masters champion whose second win came in 1993 - relied on his short game mastery to produce a 70 for 215 that left him only two adrift of Spieth going into the final round.
Can he win?
“I believe I can,” he retorted.
With a forecast of lighter winds and easier pin placements that will likely encourage aggressive play in Sunday’s final round, the prospect of someone charging up the leaderboard will encourage the likes of world number one Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, among those just three shots behind Spieth.
The task could have been much more difficult. That double-bogey six on the Par 4 18th, when he pushed his tee shot into trees, proved costly to Spieth. It came on the back of a bogey on the 17th and was the second double of his round, having also fallen foul of the 11th, the toughest hole on the course. The four stroke lead which Spieth held standing on the 17th tee had reduced to just one by the time he signed his card, with Smylie Kaufman one shot behind on 214 and Langer alongside Hideki Matsuyama on 215.
Spieth - who won wire-to-wire last year and has the chance to repeat that again here - has retained the upperhand. “I feel that if I can get to the range, I straighten the ball out , I get back to the same routine I was just in. I certainly think that down the stretch, I’m better prepared now than I was at this point last year,” he said, adding:
“I can’t rely on the putter the way I did (Saturday). I’ve got to strike the ball better. That’s what leaves me a little uneasy compared to last year. . . . .I relied on my putter on Sunday last year and it came through. I can’t do that every single round, so I’ve got to put myself in better positions (in the final round).”