The TV coverage has yet to get underway, but there are already plenty of players on the course Saturday to start the third round of the 2014 Masters Tournament.
It was going to be an uphill battle to catch 36-hole leader Bubba Watson at seven under par already. Despite the morning tee times generally lending to softer, more favorable scoring conditions, not too many significant moves are being made in the early going.
If Watson, the 2012 champion, falls back to the field, this tournament should open up and see a lot more contenders for the green jacket come Sunday. However, he seems well in command and will be difficult to chase down for those outside of Saturday's final five pairings or so.
Let's take a look at some of the top performers in Day 3's morning wave, along with some analysis of how they've fared thus far and what their respective outlooks are for the rest of the year's first major event.
Gary Woodland: -6 through 9; -3 overall
Perhaps there is a low score out there, and if it's to be had, a power player like Woodland is the perfect candidate to post a lower number in the clubhouse.
Woodland bogeyed his last four holes Friday to fall back to three over, yet he is sizzling out of the gates on moving day. After a birdie at the first hole, he used his length to his advantage to eagle the par-five second hole, then followed that up with another birdie at the tricky par-three sixth.
A par at No. 7 had Woodland approaching No. 8 in fine form, and he proved capable of making another easy birdie to get to five under already. Steve DiMeglio of USA Today noted that some of the pin placements could lead to lower scores:
Gary Woodland is moving on moving day --- 4 under through six holes, now 1 under for tourney ... Pins more accessible ...— Steve DiMeglio (@Steve_DiMeglio) April 12, 2014
Yet another birdie at the ninth saw him complete the front nine with a six-under 30. This could possibly be the birth of another star in the game of golf, not to jinx him or anything. ESPN's Justin Ray noted how Woodland's score tied a Masters record:
Gary Woodland cards a 30 on the front nine today, tying @The_Masters record.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) April 12, 2014
There's reason to believe that Woodland, who has fought through injuries and overall inconsistency in his young career, can contend for the top prize at Augusta National. If he makes it around Amen Corner at level par from where he is now, Woodland can easily make birdies on the 13th and 15th holes and should hit both par-five greens in two shots if his ball striking remains as on point as it is now.
If he's able to play the rest of the way a couple under par, he'd post a 66 and be in the clubhouse at three under. That would be good enough currently for a tie for third and would be just one shot behind the closest man to Watson in John Senden.
Depending on how the course holds up and how firm it becomes as the day wears on, perhaps Woodland could be in one of the last pairings come Sunday if this keeps up.
Ian Poulter: -3 through 5; -1 overall
Team Europe's Ryder Cup hero has proven time and again in international competition that he's as clutch as can be, but that hasn't necessarily translated to the major stage.
Poulter bogeyed five of his final 14 holes to shoot 76 in the first round, but he rebounded rather well with a 70 on Friday and is now continuing that momentum into Day 3. The Englishman has birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 5 to get to three under for the day and one under par for the tournament
PGA Tour Stats points out an interesting fact regarding both Woodland and Poulter, who were playing with past Masters winner Angel Cabrera before Saturday:
Was just feeling bad for Bill Haas when I remembered he hit a shot out of a pond to a foot to win $11 million and then didn’t feel as bad— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) April 11, 2014
It seems like a long shot that even Woodland could win at this point, yet neither he nor Poulter can be discounted. At the 2012 PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy was running away from the field. That didn't stop Poulter from trying, as he birdied the first five holes at Kiawah Island to at least make things interesting.
It will likely take a 66 or 67 for Poulter to truly have a shot at the green jacket on Sunday. Since he has adequate but not exceptional distance off the tee, he will need his streaky flatstick to catch fire if he's meant to post a stellar score.
There should be plenty of opportunities for this traditionally accurate driver of the ball to be in attack mode and get good looks at birdies as the round wears on. The question is whether he will be precise enough with his irons to get enough realistic chances to continue his steady rise up the leaderboard.
Miguel Angel Jimenez: -2 through 9; +1 overall
Where will Gary Woodland finish by the end of Round 3?
Augusta National is being a little kinder to Jimenez thus far on Saturday, as he's working his way back toward red figures thanks to birdies at the third and fifth holes, which are both par fours.
Jimenez's lack of distance hurts his cause, and he was unable to take advantage of either par five on the front nine. However, his experience at big events can't be downplayed as he seeks to get within reasonable distance of the lead.
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel recorded a great quote from Jimenez regarding his lack of power in relation to players like Woodland and even the current leader in Watson:
Miguel Angel Jimenez doing his best Miguel Angel Jimenez: "I don't hit the ball that far, but I hit it and it goes straight to the flag."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 10, 2014
Unless Jimenez gets an uncommonly hot putter and a lot of luck, though, his chances of climbing back into contention are rather slim. Amen Corner will be the true test to see if he can still hang tough.
So among the marquee performers in Day 3's morning wave, the most notable mover is clearly Woodland, whose game is best suited to score low at Augusta. Haas and Jimenez don't have the distance to overpower the golf course, and not many do—but Woodland does. That gives him such a massive edge over the rest of his peers.
Woodland is one of the better athletes on the PGA Tour and has not quite achieved what's been expected of him. Since he ranks 155th in strokes gained putting this season, how the rest of his Masters unfolds will depend heavily on what he does with the flat iron. As long as he stay accurate off the tee, Woodland is in position for great success over his final round-and-a-half.