Masters 2014: Separating Contenders from Pretenders Before Sunday's Final Round

Mike DudurichContributor IApril 12, 2014

Masters 2014: Separating Contenders from Pretenders Before Sunday's Final Round

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    Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, made a great run Saturday.
    Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, made a great run Saturday.Associated Press

    True to reputation, the 2014 Masters is one of the most wide-open in a long, long time. There are 23 golfers within seven shots of the lead and nine players within three shots.

    That doesn't necessarily mean all of those players are contenders. Augusta National Golf Club will determine who the contenders and pretenders are.

    Read on to see where the leaders stand. 

Pretender: Miguel Angel Jimenez

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    Miguel Angel Jimenez gives a thumbs-up after making a putt Saturday.
    Miguel Angel Jimenez gives a thumbs-up after making a putt Saturday.Darron Cummings

    Miguel Angel-Jimenez put himself in a nice position Saturday with the best round of the tournament: a seven-birdie, one-bogey 66.

    That round matched his Masters best, which came in the final round of 2010. What he's done to this point has been remarkable.

    But the final round of the Masters and a 50-year-old isn't a good mix. Jimenez has now played in 15 Masters and has averaged 72 in his final round. Last time he put up an 81.

    It would be nice to see the "pony-tailed one" hang on long enough to get a top-20 finish.

Contender: Jordan Spieth

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    Jordan Spieth marches off in a quest to become the youngest Masters champion.
    Jordan Spieth marches off in a quest to become the youngest Masters champion.Associated Press

    Fasten your seat belts, folks.

    The five-hour ride Sunday afternoon could end with us watching history being made.

    If you doubted him at all, hopefully the rounds of 71-70-70 posted by Jordan Spieth in the first three rounds of the Masters should have erased those. Playing on what is becoming more and more like those dry, hard and faster Augusta National layouts of old, Spieth handled himself just fine Saturday.

    The young man, just 20 remember, hit 71.4 percent of the fairways and 75.9 percent of the greens in regulation Saturday.

    Don't forget that earlier in the year, Spieth played with Tiger Woods and put up a 63.

    He seems to be afraid of nothing and rarely gets rattled to the point of putting himself in danger on the scoreboard. "He's young," Bubba Watson said of Spieth, according to ESPN.com's Bob Harig. "Nerves are no big deal to him."

    Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Wei added: "Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt are just the fifth and sixth players to open their Masters career w/3 consecutive sub-par rounds."

Pretender: Rickie Fowler

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    Rickie Fowler unleashes a tee shot Saturday afternoon.
    Rickie Fowler unleashes a tee shot Saturday afternoon.Chris Carlson

    Rickie Fowler has lived with hype for a long time and, after a spectacular amateur career, hasn't lived up to that hype as a professional.

    His best finish in a major was a T5 in the British Open in 2011, and he had a T10 in the U.S. Open last year. He's tied for fifth (after rounds of 71-75-67) going into the final round of the Masters, and that's probably as high as he'll get.

    Fowler, whose best final round in his three Masters starts was a 70, has not yet shown the intestinal fortitude necessary to be able to hold up in the heat of the Sunday battle.

    Much has been expected of the personable Fowler, but he's delivered very little.

Contender: Matt Kuchar

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    Matt Kuchar worked his way into final-round contention Saturday.
    Matt Kuchar worked his way into final-round contention Saturday.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    It feels like Matt Kuchar could be 18 holes away from becoming a Masters champion.

    He's played in the Masters eight times and has only missed the cut once. He's finished eighth and third the past two years and has played very solidly this year with scores of 73-71-68.

    He supposedly had a ball flight that was too low to play well on a course that encourages sky-high approaches to treacherous greens. But Saturday, he made six birdies and looked dominant out there. 

    Kuchar certainly did with a delicate pitch from behind the 15th green that had to land exactly in the spot he put it, leading to his third straight birdie.

    This could be the day he and his fans around the world have been waiting for. 

Pretender: Thomas Bjorn

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    Thomas Bjorn found a few of Augusta National's famous bunkers.
    Thomas Bjorn found a few of Augusta National's famous bunkers.David Cannon/Getty Images

    Thomas Bjorn has had a very nice Masters for a man at the age of 43. He's put up rounds of 73-68-73 and is tied for seventh.

    He's certainly played long enough to play Augusta National and has obviously had good success on the very fast putting surfaces.

    But I just keep going back to the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George's. Bjorn was up by two strokes with three to play but got stuck in a bunker on the 16th hole, and it took him three to get out. That allowed unheralded Ben Curtis to win a major title.

    I'm not saying that's going to happen Sunday, but I just have this squeamish feeling about Denmark's most successful golfer.

    It could be an early drop off the leaderboard for Bjorn.

Contender: Bubba Watson

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    Bubba Watson can't believe where this shot went.
    Bubba Watson can't believe where this shot went.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    What a final pairing at the Masters: 2012 champion Bubba Watson and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, golf's resident world-beater for over a year now.

    On Saturday, Bubba showed the world why he's Bubba. He dropped a shot on the first hole, made an easy eagle on the second and then bogeyed three of his next five holes. He shot 38 on the front and 36 on the back and now finds himself in a tie with Spieth.

    He was antsy and fidgety at times. He hit some bombs off the tee, and he hit some crooked ones.

    And he's tied for the lead.

    Watson definitely has to be considered a contender if for no other reason than he's kept it together as conditions toughened over the first three rounds. He posted rounds of 69-68-74.

    Will he become a two-time Masters champion? I don't think so, but you can bet he'll make it entertaining.

Pretender: Jim Furyk

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    Jim Furyk wasn't flashy Saturday but worked his way up the leaderboard.
    Jim Furyk wasn't flashy Saturday but worked his way up the leaderboard.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    It's been a couple of years since Jim Furyk was in contention at a major. It was in the 2012 U.S. Open that Furyk had the tournament in control but bogeyed the 16th and 18th holes to lose it.

    He's done well this week, firing rounds of 74-68-72 and getting himself onto the leaderboard where he finds himself at T7.

    Furyk hits fairways at an unbelievable rate, 90.5 percent this week, and his accuracy from the fairway isn't bad, 64.8 percent.

    He'll need those in front of him to come back in a big way Sundaynot totally unthinkable, but doubtful.

    Furyk won't implode Sunday; instead he'll no doubt plod along, fly under the radar and finish in the top 20. 

Contender: Jonas Blixt

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    Jonas Blixt will need his putter to be hot Sunday.
    Jonas Blixt will need his putter to be hot Sunday.Harry How/Getty Images

    In this third appearance in a major championship, Sweden's Jonas Blixt has managed to keep himself on the leaderboard at Augusta. He's tied for third with rounds of 70-71-71, despite making some gaffes you might expect out of a rookie.

    He tried to get onto the 11th green, lining his approach shot down the right side into the moguls that dot the landing area. The shot hit one of those, bounced directly left and went into the water. To Blixt's credit, he was able to scramble for a par.

    He also misplayed his approach in the hazard on the 15th hole, and that turned into a bogey.

    Blixt seems to be getting hardened to the pressures as each round passes, and he's going to be in there scrapping Sunday afternoon.

Pretender: Lee Westwood

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    Lee Westwood has displayed this look before.
    Lee Westwood has displayed this look before.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Lee Westwood has finished in the top 10 of majors 16 times in his career, including a pair of seconds and six thirds—always a bridesmaid and never a bride.

    And here he is again, at T7, just three shots behind the leaders.

    The Englishman has always been known as a superb ball-striker, but he has struggled with his short game. This is not the place for a guy with an average short game to be successful.

    That's why Westwood will not seriously contend Sunday. Pin placements will be at their most difficult, the greens will be hard and there will be plenty of roll-off.

    No, Augusta National is not the place for Westwood to win that first major.

Contender: Fred Couples

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    Fred Couples salutes the crowd around the 18th green.
    Fred Couples salutes the crowd around the 18th green.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Fred Couples needed to reverse the streak he was on of having played well enough in the first two rounds to make the cut the last five years but then disappear Saturday.

    It was mission accomplished for this tournament. He backed that up with two first rounds of 71-71 and a 73 Saturday. He's currently at T10 at one under par, four shots behind Spieth and Watson.

    That's why I believe he's going to use the experience of winning the 1992 Masters to his advantage in the final round. It will make for a great story, one that all of of golf will revel in.

    Couples still does all of the things necessary to compete at the top. He won't blow himself out of it Sunday; he'll strike a blow for the over-50 set with a strong performance over the last 18 holes.