Amy Mickelson stood on pine straw under a set of trees on the 13th hole, her eyes gazing back toward the tee box here at Amen Corner. Wearing a floppy brown suede hat that protected her cheeks from a still beating sun, Mickelson watched as her husband, Phil, struck his drive into the middle of the fairway of the 510-yard par 5.
Off in the distance, the hand-operated scoreboard near the 13th green offered a glimpse of reality on this Saturday at the Masters. Phil Mickelson sat at 9-under par, 6 strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth, and daylight was starting to fade here at Augusta National Golf Club.
“We’re good,” Amy Mickelson said, turning away from the ropes and offering high fives to two members of the Mickelson party. “We’re good!”
Moments later, the scoreboard operator flipped a green “16” onto the white scoreboard. Spieth, the 21-year-old wunderkind, had dropped in another birdie on the 12th hole.
This was Saturday at the Masters, a leaderboard of A-list golf stars and former champions chasing after the dust particles left behind by a young comet named Spieth.
Spieth, who entered the day at 14-under par, shot a 2-under par 70 and finished at 16-under 200 — 4 strokes ahead of second-place Justin Rose heading into Sunday’s final round.
At 21 years of age, Spieth set a new 54-hole scoring record at the Masters, and only a brief wobble in the final two holes, including a double-bogey at 17, kept Augusta National from totally submitting to the New Jordan Rules.
“I actually felt more comfortable than I thought I would,” Spieth said after his round. “It's just so hard. I think I finished my (Friday) round 24 hours before I started my next round; and with a big lead, that's tough. I was just anxious.”
Rose, who made birdie at 18, sits just 4 strokes back at 12-under and will have the best opportunity to catch Spieth. But on late Saturday evening, as Spieth completed a tricky up-and-down from the gallery to save par at 18, the momentum was back on the side of history. For the moment, Spieth sits just 18 holes from becoming the youngest Masters winner since Tiger Woods’ landmark victory at the age of 21 in 1997.
“That up-and-down on 18, that may have been a one-in-five (shot),” Spieth said. “That just took some guts.”
If you are Mickelson (11-under), Woods (6-under), or Rory McIlroy (6-under), you can only put up an optimistic front and hope that the guts will fade away, that Spieth will remember his age on Sunday, that the door will open for the rest of the field.
We’re good. We’re good.
“Jordan was so far ahead,” Rose said after Saturday’s round. “That it was almost (like) you were just playing your own game.”
“I’m going to try to stop him,” Mickelson said. “But we'll see how it goes.”
“I’ve got to shoot a super low one tomorrow,” Woods said.
Anything can happen on Sunday at Augusta. Woods said this at least once on Saturday. Four years ago, McIlroy, then 21, took a 4-shot lead into the final day — only to fall apart in epic fashion while shooting 80. One year ago, Spieth played in the final group with Bubba Watson, taking a 2-stroke lead on the front nine before Watson stormed to the green jacket.
Spieth, of course, can make history on Sunday, with Woods’ Masters scoring record of 18-under par also in range. But he will also be playing the final group with a former U.S. Open champion (Rose) and just one group behind a three-time Masters champion in Mickelson.
“There's going to be roars,” Spieth said. “Phil is going to have a lot of roars in front.”
Spieth then paused. Wait, were Woods and McIlroy also paired together on Sunday? The answer came back yes.
“Well, you're going to hear something there,” Spieth said, smiling. “But especially in the group in front of us. Everyone loves Phil. Why wouldn't you love Phil? And he's going to make some noise and he's going to make a run.”
This, of course, is the question. Will Sunday be a coronation? Or will Sunday be a tournament.
On Saturday, Spieth wobbled on the 17th hole, turning an errant drive into a 3-putt and a double-bogey that left him at 16-under. At the 18th, he hit his approach into the crowd before saving par.
“He would just be a great champion,” Mickelson said of Spieth. “He's just a classy guy. “He just represents the game very well and at a very young age and he's just got a lot of game.”
For the past three days, Spieth has owned the grounds at Augusta National, firing a 64 on Thursday before shooting a 66 on Friday. At times on Friday, Spieth’s score was so low that you could hardly read his two-digit-under par score on the leaderboard. The numbers had to be so small just to fit in the correct spot.
And yet, the return of Woods has deflected some of the harsh glare usually reserved for a Masters leader. On Saturday, as Woods charged to 7-under par, his galleries swelled while Spieth’s stayed at a modest size.
But close to an hour later, Spieth’s mother, Chris, stood off the fairway at the 13th hole, watching her son drill another birdie putt. She fist-bumped Spieth’s agent, Jay Danzi, then hugged her son’s girlfriend. After three days, her son was in position for an historic Masters win.
We’re good. We’re good.
After three days, Spieth felt pretty good, too.