As golfers prepare to tee off for their final rounds at the 2014 Masters Tournament, it's fair to say everything has mostly gone to scrip—wait, what? It hasn't? You mean this year's Masters has been an entirely unpredictable semi-mess featuring players that most casual fans have never heard of atop the leaderboard?
Oh. My bad.
For the golf diehards, though, it's hard to quibble with the excitement thus far. With nine golfers within three strokes of leaders Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth, there is a muck atop the leaderboard that makes this essentially anyone's tournament. It would have been hard to say such a sentence after two rounds, when it looked as if Watson was going to run away with the whole thing.
Moving day told another story.
With the mid-afternoon opening up the course to the easiest stretch of golf all week, numerous guys already written off vaulted into the conversation. Matt Kuchar, Miguel Jimenez and Rickie Fowler were all essentially non-factors after disappointing starts, but they all turned in rounds that have them within shouting distance of the lead.
Thomas Bjorn and Jonas Blixt were both hanging around through the first 36 holes but seemed like natural candidates to fade away. Both stuck. As did the incomparable Jim Furyk and Fred Couples, both of whom relish in the Masters spotlight.
Even without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Sunday is shaping up to live up to the typical excitement we've come to expect. Someone just wake up the casual fan in your life and make him or her realize.
With that in mind, let's check in on the Day 4 leaderboard and highlight some storylines to watch throughout the afternoon.
Day 4 Storylines
Is It Still Bubba's Tournament to Lose?
Saturday didn't go exactly as planned for Watson. Heading into moving day with a three-stroke lead and numerous contenders carding low scores, the late-afternoon tee time seemingly put the 2012 Masters winner in a good spot to at least hold, if not extend, his lead.
Instead, Watson was caught in a fierce battle just to hold on all day long. Watson carded four bogeys on his front nine, with his only savior being a birdie on the par-five second hole. Bjorn and Blixt nipped at Watson's heels all day, even tying him at five-under at a stretch before the lefty began leveling out his stroke.
Bubba Watson giving away shots now like a fired bartender. Lead down to 0 (Blixt). #Masters— Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) April 12, 2014
Watson eventually calmed down on the back nine with a birdie at No. 10 before ending his round with a 74. Tied with Spieth, one could argue only one of them has played championship golf through all three rounds. While the youngster has carded three straight under-par performances, Watson's two-over instead brought him back to the pack.
Watson will have to find the collected, mistake-free golfer who showed up the first two days if he hopes to win. The 35-year-old hit fairways and greens in regulation with ease during his first two rounds while also making critical par putts when needed. A bit of a downward trajectory wasn't unforeseen given Watson's history of up-and-down play at Augusta—his 2012 green jacket is the only time he's finished better than 20th here—but he's already used up his margin for error.
Two years ago, Watson managed to come from behind and force a playoff. In 2014, he'll have to make sure this year's version of him doesn't do the same thing.
Can Jordan Spieth Make History?
It would be unfair to call Spieth's contention at Augusta unexpected. He's perhaps the most heralded American golfer in a very, very long time and has consistently acquitted himself of any doubts since turning pro in 2012. He won his first PGA tournament less than two weeks before his 20th birthday, has three top-10 finishes in stroke play events this season and plays a controlled style that engenders him to Augusta.
Still. Dude is 20 years old. He's in his first Masters Tournament. I'm not stepping out on a limb here to say these are the four biggest rounds of his young professional career, and he's come out and aced three of the four. Spieth's third-round 71 puts him in position to control his own destiny.
Keep in mind that heading into Augusta folks within the golf world were vacillating on whether to back Spieth or the older Patrick Reed as the American most likely to make a run. Reed missed the cut. Spieth is on the precipice of history.
At 20, he would be the youngest Masters winner in history, eclipsing a mark set by Eldrick Tont Woods. You may have heard of him. Spieth would also be one of the youngest major winners in the sport's history period, joining Young Tom Morris, John J. McDermott and Gene Sarazen as the men who have won before being able to enjoy a cold beverage.
One last historical factoid: Spieth would be the first to win his Masters debut since 1979. The stakes aren't exactly small here.
But considering how he's played thus far, it's hard to count Spieth out. He's hit better than 70 percent of his greens and fairways, while also reading the greens like an Augusta veteran. There were times when it looked like Spieth's third round would fall off the wagon, but he consistently managed to make the requisite shots and put himself on solid ground.
I'm not sure if I'd ever predict a 20-year-old to win a major. If I did, though, Spieth is a pretty decent bet.
Old Guys? Ollllllld Guyyyyyssss!
While a majority of today's superstars find themselves either at home (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson) or absent from the leaderboard (Rory McIlroy), the stars of yesteryear have come out in full force. Jimenez, Couples and Furyk all have a chance to capture the green jacket to varying degrees.
Furyk, obviously, is the youngest of the three. At 43, he's actually only a month older than Mickelson. But he gets looped in here mostly because he's been around for what feels like a half-billion years. His first and only major came at the 2003 U.S. Open, and Furyk's best performance at Augusta came that same season.
He typically hangs around the general conversation, but Furyk has earned just one top-10 finish since his fourth-place outing here more than a decade ago. It's be a relatively major shock if he came away with his first green jacket, though his second-place finish last year at the PGA may have foreshadowed this run.
Jimenez or Couples walking away victorious, meanwhile, would be historic. Both men would be the oldest to win a major championship in the sport's history, while providing pretty darn good intrigue from a human interest perspective.
Jimenez on a Masters Sunday is the Internet's dream come true. He's just marvelous in every way, shape and form. His stretching routine, his cigars, everything about him essentially flies in the face of the subdued Masters tradition—making the contrarian in me light up at the prospect of him winning. Jimenez, who went for a 76 on Friday to make the cut by just two strokes, shot a six-under 66 on moving day to give him the best single round of the entire event.
"It's difficult after 25 years; it's my 26th year on Tour," Jimenez told reporters. "And probably some people say, that's so many years, that's got to be hard and that's got to be hard on the body. No, I love what I'm doing, and I hope I'm still in the same condition for another 25. I'm not going to get bored of myself."
Couples, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, continues to just chug along with his typical Masters mastery (sorry). He's finished no worse than 15th the past four events and is the only player to be in the top 10 after 36 holes in each of the last five years. Bleacher Report's Will Carroll noted that Woods should feel some level of comfort seeing the 54-year-old Couples contend:
Seeing Fred Couples in the top ten at the Masters and hearing people question whether Tiger can come back from back surgery at the same time— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) April 12, 2014
Will anyone in this trio win? History says that's a stretch to say the least. But, if you're going to root for anything, why not a 54-year-old Hall of Famer or a chain-smoking, awkwardly stretching Spaniard?
I can think of plenty worse outcomes for a Masters Sunday.
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