Leaders Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth are still in the infancy of their final round, but for the drove of players who won't be wearing the green jacket this year, Masters Sunday is already well underway.
The bottom of the 51 remaining golfers have been playing since the early morning, and indications are it's going to take an awfully strong round to go better than par. With difficult pin locations and the sun again beating down on the competitors, the course is playing fast and should make for an interesting late-afternoon stretch run.
Watson and Spieth are five under for the tournament, holding a one-stroke lead over Matt Kuchar and Jonas Blixt. Three of the four leaders would be first-time major winners. Watson's only major title came at Augusta two years ago.
Behind that foursome is an eclectic group featuring 50-year-old Miguel Jimenez and Rickie Fowler, who are both at three under. At the very least, we know which will be the most entertaining pair from a viewers' perspective.
Given Tiger Woods' absence and Phil Mickelson's early exit, it looked heading into the weekend that we were headed for a rather nondescript finish. Watson had a three-stroke lead on the field, while essentially any player a casual fan would know had been knocked out of contention. (Hey, Rory!)
Instead, viewers will get the next best thing to a high-profile champion: an exciting finish. With that in mind, let's check in on what's happened so far in Day 4 before the leaders head to the first tee for the last time.
Top Sunday Performers
Joost Luiten (-5, F)
Welp. That's sure not a bad way to wake up from a nightmare. Luiten, though he made the cut, shared an unfortunate distinction with Larry Mize prior to Sunday: last place among remaining players. The 28-year-old Dutchman, making his first trip to Augusta, turned in a five-over 77 in his third round to move to nine over for the tournament.
While Mize has continued his downward spiral and will comfortably finish in 51st place, Luiten dug himself out of the rubble for a solid round. Putting the ball with vastly more confidence than he did 24 hours prior, Luiten hit two birdies to make the turn at 34. He gave a stroke back on No. 10, but he recaptured his confidence in time to make a run of three straight birdies starting on No. 14.
That will ultimately provide little solace in the interim, but there's a big difference between sitting near last place and climbing within proximity of a top-30 finish. First, the money is a whole heck of a lot better. Luiten's strong round earned him tens of thousands of dollars extra.
The finish will also prove critical as Luiten tries to play a full slate of majors for the first time in his career. He has yet to qualify for the U.S. Open in his career and was also absent from the Open Championship in 2013 after making the cut the two prior years.
Again, everyone who enters the tournament fashions himself a contender for the green jacket. Luiten proved in the first three rounds he's not quite ready for that type of stage. But if he can use Sunday as a building block for events with less competitive fields and less daunting terrain, Luiten might be able to secure his first PGA Tour victory in 2014.
Bernhard Langer (-3, Thru 8)
Though he teed off early in the day, it's hard to say Langer was having a bad tournament. It was just thoroughly uninspired. The German went three rounds with no score worse than 74 and none better than 72 to come into Sunday at three over.
Playing through his front nine, he's suddenly put himself in position for a top-10 finish if the leaders fall back to the pack. Langer opened his day going birdie-eagle on the first two holes to move within five strokes of the leaders. He gave one back on the third, but a birdie on the fifth brought him back to three under for the day.
Langer, 56, has two green jackets to his name, the most recent coming in 1993. He's part of an interesting contingent of fifty-somethings playing well this week, highlighted by Jimenez and Fred Couples. It would have been almost unthinkable a decade ago to think a 56-year-old man could compete at a major championship. But marvels of modern medicine and such, I guess.
Langer rarely plays the other three majors. The last time he set foot on U.S. Open soil was 2005, and same goes for the PGA. His only Open Championship appearance in the last nine years came in 2011, where he was cut.
With the way he's played on the Champions Tour this season, though, we may wind up seeing more of him the rest of 2014. He's earned four top-10 finishes in his five senior events thus far, and his encouraging play Sunday should at the very least give him confidence the rest of the way.
For now, we'll sit back and enjoy the Masters as told by men almost old enough to be Jordan Spieth's grandfathers.
EVERYONE Currently at Two Under
The following golfers are at two under par as of publication.
Louis Oosthuizen (Thru 9)
Back-to-back 75s halted the momentum of his opening round, but Oosthuizen is back on his game Sunday. He birdied the first two holes and went bogey-birdie on Nos. 6 and 7 to make the turn at 34.
The injury-prone South African, who lost to Watson in a playoff two years ago, has a long way to go to get back in the tour-wide conversation. But his win at January's Volvo Golf Champions on the European Tour proved he still has plenty of potential. Don't be surprised if you see him in contention again at the Open Championship.
K.J. Choi (Thru 17)
Choi has spent his afternoon wildly vacillating between the day's low round and shooting 80. He's carded five birdies but went over par thrice to move to five-over for the tournament. Like Oosthuizen, Choi had a strong first-round 70 thrown out the window by going 75-78 over the last two days. Still, despite his struggles, he has now made the cut in eight straight major tournaments—his longest such streak in nearly a decade.
Stephen Gallacher (F)
A double on No. 10 is the only thing keeping this from being a truly special round from Gallacher. The Scot has six birdies against just two bogeys, staying accurate off the tee and knocking down his putts. Irons were a problem for him all week, but he's been able to get on the green in regulation Sunday and has taken advantage.
Gallacher, 39, is playing in his first Masters after years of failing to qualify. Considering his struggles in making it this far, he is probably happy with merely making it to Sunday—let alone his solid final round.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: @TylerConway22
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