The final round of the 2014 Masters Tournament is underway, and although the co-leaders in Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth don't tee off until 2:40 p.m. ET, there are still some minor moves being made.
Sunday should see some dramatic theatre unfold at Augusta National Golf Club, as 13 players are within five strokes of the lead. Depending on what happens at the top, a world-class player from an earlier pairing could post a low number and see if those out on the course can best him in the clubhouse.
All of the following golfers to be analyzed are likely too far out of contention to even threaten for the green jacket, but it's still worth monitoring their progress at the outset of the major championship season. Although they might be out of time at Augusta, their form toward the end of this event could forecast what's to come.
In addition to looking at some of the players in the morning wave who are off to hot starts, let's dive into some brief analysis of what to expect on Masters Sunday.
Steven Bowditch: -1 through 5; +3 overall
Between missed cuts at the Valspar Championship and Shell Houston Open, Steven Bowditch clinched a spot in the Masters field by notching his first PGA Tour victory at the Valero Texas Open.
Now he is making the most of his maiden appearance at Augusta National, making the weekend cut easily and holding rather steady given his relative inexperience in huge tournaments. Bowditch got a nice bonus Sunday when he eagled the par-five second to get to two over par.
One of the cornerstones of golf is integrity, which is required even when in the public eye on live television. That was on display when Bowditch called a penalty on himself during the opening round, per Golf World's Dave Shedloski:
Steven Bowditch also called a penalty on himself today when his ball moved in the pine straw right of 9th fairway. Made a good bogey.— Dave Shedloski (@DaveShedloski) April 10, 2014
There has to be some sort of good karma associated with such a move. In any event, it looks as though Bowditch could improve his standing in his first major and open up doors for future events. A birdie at the short par-four third got him to as low as three under, but a double bogey at the difficult par-three fourth dropped him back to one under.
At age 30, though, the Aussie is just beginning to round into form with a newly discovered confidence, calm demeanor and the nerve to hold up at the Masters despite such a recent, meteoric rise onto this big stage.
K.J. Choi: -1 through 10; +6 overall
At just one over after 36 holes of play, it seemed as though K.J. Choi could conceivably catch the leaders on the weekend. Unfortunately, the veteran went the wrong way on moving day, bogeying five of his first seven holes en route to a 78.
Credit Choi for not giving up, though, because even with a bogey at the par-four ninth hole, he is still one of the few players currently on the course who is under par. Having placed as high as third at Augusta in the past and with eight tour wins under his belt, it stands to reason that Choi can navigate Amen Corner with effectiveness and stay in the red on Sunday.
The par-three fourth hole has been among the most difficult holes of the week—Bowditch can attest to that after his double bogey—yet Choi managed to make a birdie there in Round 4, per Sky Sports Golf:
There have been just 9 birdies at the long par three 4th hole this week. KJ Choi just made the latest. The 11th has seen just seven birdies.— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) April 13, 2014
That shows what Choi is still capable of at age 43. Even though he's fallen off the radar and not played as well in recent years, the Masters atmosphere is something Choi clearly embraces, regardless of where he might stand.
Something in the 60s would be some consolation, but Choi must be grinding hard given his disappointing third-round score and how far out of the hunt he is. It makes his strong front nine all the more impressive.
Five under par is the score to catch, and there are plenty of legitimate challengers in range to topple Spieth and Watson atop the leaderboard.
Spieth is seeking to become the youngest Masters champion in history, while Watson is hoping to snag his second green jacket in three years. Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Sports believes that Watson needs this win the least out of all those most prominently in the mix:
Of the top-9, here are guys that need this the most, in order - Westwood, Bjorn, Jimenez, Kuchar, Furyk, Fowler, Spieth, Blixt, Bubba— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) April 13, 2014
It would seem greedy for Watson to triumph again, since Matt Kuchar, who is just one stroke behind, is among the most consistent players on the planet and among the best not to have won a major.
The same goes for Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has won 20 times on the European Tour and in three different decades, but he doesn't have a major title on his resume. It's getting a bit late in the game for "The Mechanic," but the opposite is true for his playing partner, Rickie Fowler.
Work with swing instructor Butch Harmon is beginning to pay dividends for the young American, who was just one stroke behind Jimenez's low round of the tournament on Saturday with a 67. However, Fowler needs something like a Masters win to add to his modest record of just one victory on tour to cement his status among the game's best.
I think the person I've learned the most from here is Phil. There's no one – it's unfortunate to see him not play well the first two days, but there's no one that I have found that knows the course better than him. [...] It's about time that I need to kind of step up and start playing well on the weekends, especially at the majors.
[...] When I started working with Butch in December, our main goal is to be here right now ready to contend and have a chance to win the Masters. So, so far, so good.
Who will win the 2014 Masters?
A less discussed Masters rookie is Jonas Blixt, who is just one shot off the pace entering Sunday and has a marvelous short game that should help him stay competitive.
Two other decorated veterans in Jim Furyk and Lee Westwood are at two under. Furyk has accomplished a lot in his career, yet has just one major to his name and hasn't captured a green jacket. Westwood has been seeking to get off the major skids for such a long time, coming up empty-handed with a slew of close calls.
So many elite golfers have so much on the line ahead of Masters Sunday. With how much pressure there is on all of them to capitalize on this golden opportunity for major glory, it's hard to label anyone other than Watson as the top favorite.
Watson did struggle to a two-over 74 in Round 3, yet he has the least to lose since he already has a green jacket from 2012. That will make whoever steps up to potentially defeat him all the more impressive, and even though Spieth has a ton of golf ahead in his bright future, having a 20-year-old slip on the green jacket would be something.
Any of the veterans who have never won at Augusta—or haven't won a major at all—who are due would also be great stories in their own right. That sets up an excellent conclusion to the 2014 Masters, which has thrived even in the absence of such stars as Mickelson and golf's pre-eminent superstar in Tiger Woods.