A majority of the leaders are still in the infancy of their third rounds, but the already eventful day at Augusta National should give us an indication of what's to come.
Verdict: Expect the highly variant.
For the third straight day, it looked like the world's best golfers were doing their best to hover around par—before afternoon hit and scores started going low. Rory McIlroy's Augusta plague had morphed into an epidemic before he carded three birdies in his last four holes. Jason Day was headed backward until righting the ship. And, of course, Rickie Fowler still has a better fashion sense than all of us.
The course seems like it's on the precipice of loosening up, with multiple non-contenders throwing their hats in the ring with solid efforts. Gary Woodland went from a Friday 77 to on the cusp of breaking the course record after going seven under through his first 10 holes. Miguel Jimenez, the living embodiment of the "Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign, kicked off his back nine by more than making up for his second-day 76.
As the leaders play well into the late afternoon, this could go one of two ways. Either the leaders will follow in kind with the Jimenezes and Woodlands of the world and begin threatening the double-digit under-par barrier through 54 holes—or the exact opposite will happen and we'll have a giant muck of players heading into Sunday.
The television networks certainly hope it's the latter. ESPN's viewership plummeted by roughly 800,000 viewers, as Tiger Woods' absence continues to paint a bleak picture of the post-Tiger golf world. Phil Mickelson's struggles and eventual cut certainly didn't help matters, as won't McIlroy's relative anonymity deep in the leaderboard.
The greatest hope for CBS, which broadcasts the two weekend rounds, is a down-to-the-wire finish that eventually attracts the casual watcher. With that in mind, let's check in on the biggest storylines thus far from Day 3.
Gary Woodland? Gary Woodland!
There are some events in sports that lack sensical explanation. They happen because a band ran on the field, because we all believe in miracles, because Scott Norwood still can't kick a damn last-second field goal.
These things defy logic because sports are one of the final pure—OK, kinda pure—forms of entertainment we have left in the culture. I cannot tell you for the life of me how Corey Brewer scored 51 points in an NBA basketball game Friday night. But I can tell you why: because sports.
Same goes for Woodland, who for nine holes on Saturday transmogrified into a golfing Monstar. Starting his third round with a three-over aggregate following a five-over 77 on Friday, Woodland went birdie-eagle on the first two holes as he embarked on a historic front nine. Three birdies in four holes from No. 6 to No. 9 allowed Woodland to make the turn at a record-tying 30, and another birdie on the 10th hole vaulted him all the way to second place.
Woodland, a 29-year-old Kansas native who hadn't even played at Augusta since 2011, is the fifth player in history to card a front-nine 30. Only Johnny Miller, Greg Norman, K.J. Choi and Phil Mickelson have done the same. Not bad company.
Of course, the unfortunate and predictable regression wasn't far off. Woodland went bogey, double-bogey on No. 11 and No. 12, respectively, to drop three strokes. He carded another bird on the par-five 13th but gave that right back on the following hole.
In the end, Woodland's front nine will likely be viewed as a blip on the Masters radar. He's still too far behind Bubba Watson and the other leaders to make a serious run at the top of the leaderboard, and his back-nine regression all but confirmed the second-round 77 will be his doom. Nevertheless, for, like, an hour, Gary Woodland was the most exciting face in golf.
So there's that.
Can I Interest You in a Miguel Jimenez Surge?
Is that even a question? In a dream world—one where I essentially dictate what happens, which, well, do with that what you will—Jimenez would be paired with Jason Dufner 100 percent of the time. I don't care if they even have similar scores or even make the cut. They're both from that wonderful netherworld where awesome Internet things happen, and I wish to see them hang out more.
Alas, with Dufner having been cut and the Masters not adhering to my wishes, we were left to be entertained only by Jimenez on Saturday. And entertain he did.
The 50-year-old Spaniard, who has never finished better than eighth at Augusta, vaulted his way up the leaderboard and into the top 10 with a third-round 66. He played the front nine at two under, strangely enough by scoring birdie on two par fours and merely parring the supposedly easier long holes.
He then took off immediately on the back nine, carding four birdies in the first five holes with a bogey thrown in on No. 12. While Woodland's last holes were defined by his inability to keep the hot streak going, Jimenez should be a player on the leaderboard going into Sunday if the low scores come to a halt in the late afternoon.
The key to Jimenez's round (beyond all the awesome Jimenez things): driving accuracy. He's been hovering around or above the 90 percent fairway mark all week, atoning for some shaky second irons and his lack of length at 50. Jimenez has also been very good at getting himself out and saving par at greenside bunkers.
Whether it continues Sunday or not is obviously up in the air. He has only one top-10 finish at Augusta since 2002—and that was six years ago. Oh well. The treat of having Jimenez hanging around on a Masters Sunday should be enough for any golf fan. Or someone who actually just likes interesting personalities to go along with their sports.
The Curious Case of Rory McIlroy
If you can diagnose what afflicts McIlroy's game at this point, please, be my guest. I'm about out of options here.
For 14 holes Saturday, McIlroy again looked miserable. He couldn't stop himself from lipping out putts, couldn't get up and down for sand saves and showed a miraculous penchant for looking this close to having a good round. Still, McIlroy came into the 15th tee box at two over for the day and barely keeping his head above the very back of the fray.
Three birdies in his last four holes later, and McIlroy carded his second 71 of the tournament and all looked OK with the world. Sure, he was outperformed by his playing partner—Augusta National club member and noncompetitive marker Jeff Knox—but it was ultimately a far cry from his 77 on Friday. McIlroy currently sits in a tie for 28th, and a top-10 finish isn't entirely out of the question should he play well in the final round.
It's those three holes I keep coming back to. There are times, admittedly, where McIlroy looks like the very best player on the world. He's been the longest off the tee almost all week, and considering he's hit two-thirds of his fairways and 70 percent of his greens, McIlroy has the profile of a player who should be right in the hunt.
The problem is, when McIlroy is bad, it's a complete train wreck. He carded as many double-bogeys as birdies (two) on Friday. Putting has been the overarching problem before those final three holes, so much so that McIlroy joked with reporters after his round that Knox should do the reading for him:
"He obviously knows this place so well and gets it around," McIlroy said. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does around here. He was really impressive. I was thinking of maybe getting him to read a few of my putts out there."
Either way, McIlroy will play out another major Sunday in relative anonymity. If you'll excuse me, I'll be taking a prescription-strength ibuprofen to cure the headache I incurred trying to figure out exactly why.
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