‘Moving Day’ at the Masters once again lived up to its billing, as the big guns, and some not so big guns, set out their stalls for Sunday’s last hurrah.
The main market mover was Justin Rose, who moved serenely out of fourth gear over Augusta’s back nine to post of a best-of-the-day 67 to share the 54-hole lead with fellow Ryder Cup star Sergio Garcia on six under par.
Rose will feel he is overdue a green jacket, having had to watch Jordan Spieth speed off into the distance when they played alongside each other in 2015, and the hero of the US Open in 2013 will have none of the nerves that Garcia may feel should he still be contention on the back nine on Sunday.
Rose produced a stirring back nine of 31. His celebration of an 18th-hole birdie was telling. “I take confidence from two years ago,” Rose said. “And from Rio; the Olympics aren’t a major, but I held off great players down the stretch. I feel like I’ve played really well this week, and it was great to finally start to see some putts drop.”
Spieth, for his part, wiped out the effects of his quadruple-bogey nine on Thursday by posting a third-round 68 to close within two shots of the lead. The 23 year old looked in ominous form, and without the pressures of being in the final group, looks certain to adopt of more aggressive approach on Sunday as he bids to erase the memories of his final round collapse here 12 months ago.
“I couldn’t ask for much better than this after my first round [of 75],” Spieth said. “We have fought back brilliantly to have a chance to win this. Tomorrow might free me up a bit, coming from behind. I plan to play aggressively. At this point it’s win or go home. Finishing fifth versus 10th doesn’t mean much to me.”
One shot adrift of the leaders is Rickie Fowler – bidding to win his first major – while Ryan Moore, Charley Hoffman, and Masters champions Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel, also lurk with intent.
Lee Westwood, last year’s joint runner-up, shot his finest round of the week, 68, to move to one under par. On the grounds of experience alone, Westwood’s chances have to be taken seriously. “I did what I needed to do today,” said Westwood. “I needed to get into the red. Obviously I would like to be deep in the red, but one under is pretty good. I’ve got half a chance.”
One shot behind Westwood, at even par, lies Rory McIlroy, whose birdies at the 2nd and 3rd holes on Saturday hinted at the beginning of a charge. Yet his momentum was halted by a bogey at the 5th and double bogey at the 7th. He later missed what looked like key birdie opportunities at 13, 14 and 15.
Having signed for a 71, McIlroy is not out of this tournament, but he needs to summon some Sunday magic and for at least 10 of the world’s top players to have a bad day at the office, if he is to complete his grand slam of majors this year.