Bubba Watson's brilliance has been on display at the 2014 Masters Tournament through the first two rounds, and he enters Saturday with a three-stroke lead at seven under par over John Senden.
That formidable ball-striking duo will play in the final third-round pairing and is slated to tee off at 2:45 p.m. ET at Augusta National Golf Club.
One of the big favorites in Rory McIlroy needed to drain a tense short putt on the final hole in Round 2 just to make the cut on the number at four over par. McIlroy will be off by himself at 10:15 a.m. ET, seeking to put up a ton of birdies and get somewhere near contention.
Defending champion Adam Scott overcame a 39 on the front nine Friday, rallying back to level par for the day and pulling to within four strokes of the lead. He'll tee off with American prodigy Jordan Spieth, who's seeking to become the youngest Masters winner ever.
That's just the beginning of analysis in what promises to be an excellent weekend at Augusta. Below is a complete list of tee times, along with predictions for what to expect during Saturday's third-round action.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com.
|Time (ET)||Player 1||Player 2|
|10:15 a.m.||Rory McIlroy||—|
|10:25 a.m.||Jason Day||Joost Luiten|
|10:35 a.m.||Darren Clarke||Jose Maria Olazabal|
|10:45 a.m.||Miguel Angel Jimenez||Sandy Lyle|
|10:55 a.m.||Billy Horschel||Gary Woodland|
|11:05 a.m.||Chris Kirk||Martin Kaymer|
|11:15 a.m.||Oliver Goss||Francesco Molinari|
|11:25 a.m.||Nick Watney||Thongchai Jaidee|
|11:35 a.m.||Bill Haas||Thorbjorn Olesen|
|11:55 a.m.||Ian Poulter||Rickie Fowler|
|12:05 p.m.||Steven Bowditch||Brendon de Jonge|
|12:15 p.m.||Hunter Mahan||Justin Rose|
|12:25 p.m.||Vijay Singh||Bernhard Langer|
|12:35 p.m.||Steve Stricker||Larry Mize|
|12:45 p.m.||Mike Weir||K.J. Choi|
|12:55 p.m.||Henrik Stenson||Stewart Cink|
|1:05 p.m.||Lee Westwood||Brandt Snedeker|
|1:15 p.m.||Louis Oosthuizen||Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano|
|1:35 p.m.||Lucas Glover||Matt Kuchar|
|1:45 p.m.||Kevin Stadler||Jamie Donaldson|
|1:55 p.m.||Stephen Gallacher||Russell Henley|
|2:05 p.m.||Jim Furyk||Kevin Streelman|
|2:15 p.m.||Fred Couples||Jimmy Walker|
|2:25 p.m.||Adam Scott||Jordan Spieth|
|2:35 p.m.||Thomas Bjorn||Jonas Blixt|
|2:45 p.m.||Bubba Watson||John Senden|
'Bubba Golf' Comes Back to Bite Watson
It seems that Watson is poised to win his second green jacket in three years, displaying an uncommon conservatism that's led to few mistakes.
But the hot streak Watson got on in the second round, when he birdied Nos. 12 through 16, may be the best punch he has to throw. Watson was pleased with his performance in that span:
The weekend isn't so much about firepower as it is to remain patient.
When he rallied from behind to win at Augusta in 2012, Watson birdied the 13th through 16th holes in the final round. That stretch has been kind to him, but this is an unprecedented position of him playing out in front in a major.
It's encouraging that Watson has been able to pull off clutch shots when he's needed to in chasing the leaders in the past. Now it will be interesting to see how he handles being the front-runner.
Chances are, things won't go as well for Watson on Saturday. He is a streaky putter and has a typically aggressive strategy that can backfire at any moment. Doubting him may seem foolish, but Watson has had the luxury and freedom to fire at flagsticks when chasing major titles in the past.
That won't be the case when he steps up to the first tee in Round 3. There should be some indecision and conflicting thoughts for Watson as he tries to decide whether to press and bolster his lead or to play it safe, given the difficult, firm conditions Augusta National is fostering at the moment.
Watson will likely press a bit when he doesn't need to, not putt quite as well and fall out of the lead as a result.
Spieth Stays Steady, Shoots Under Par
There is something about the way Spieth carries himself that is uncommon among 20-year-olds—and that's meant as the highest compliment.
Golf is such a mental grind, and the fact that Spieth has been able to ascend to heights many of his senior peers have only dreamed about to date is astounding. Now the precocious Texan has a chance to really make a splash at Augusta.
Despite how much the element of experience tends to favor veterans, Spieth seems like a seasoned pro. There are no standout qualities to his game, but there are no glaring weaknesses, either. The way he's handled the lightning-fast Masters greens has been particularly impressive.
ESPN's Justin Ray noted what's on the line as Spieth prepares to play with Scott on Saturday:
Jordan Spieth, looking to become youngest Masters winner ever, playing with Adam Scott Saturday, looking to become 4th repeat champ.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) April 11, 2014
There is no question that Spieth is ready for the pressure cooker that Augusta generates on the weekend. The higher the stakes, the better he seems to play.
Don't be surprised when Spieth bests Scott in the third round thanks to superior putting, gets even closer to the lead and earns a spot in the final group for Sunday's finale.
Senden Ascends to Top of Leaderboard
For many of the same reasons Watson has succeeded in the past, the same logic applies to Senden in this case.
Senden is a supreme ball-striker who has underachieved throughout his career. A win earlier this season at the Valspar Championship may have been a big turning point, though.
At age 42, the Australian veteran has immense experience and has weathered the frustration of a lot of poor putting to thrive at Augusta. The flat iron that has failed Senden in the past is working well now, as he ranks 18th on tour in strokes gained putting.
Who will hold the lead after the third round of the 2014 Masters?
Again, this isn't to say Senden will hold on for the final 18 holes. It's possible that he could, but for at least one more round, he's a pretty good bet to put up a low number based on his game from tee to green.
It takes a calm demeanor and confidence to get around Augusta. All three of these players in Watson, Spieth and Senden have precisely that, and thus should remain near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
If Watson were to pull off another Masters triumph, it would reaffirm his status as a superstar. All that would be left to ponder is how many more majors he could win from here on—and whether he can adjust his game well enough to venues that make par rather than birdie the prime objective.
Scott defending his title would be an outstanding story, but Spieth being the youngest to win could be the true birth of golf's next big thing. Then, of course, Senden would continue proving himself on such a massive stage and rectify some underwhelming results throughout his career.
Projected Final Round 3 Standings: 1. Senden (-6); 2. Spieth (-5); T3 Watson (-4); T3 Scott (-4).