Golf

Spieth plays like Masters veteran, grabs share of lead with Watson

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comApril 12, 2014 

Masters Golf

Jordan Spieth walks off the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club on Saturday. Spieth has a share of the lead going into the final round of the Masters.

CHARLIE RIEDEL — The Associated Press

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The rookie Jordan Spieth's education at Augusta National Golf Club began with a white-haired teacher and the teacher's longtime caddie.

If Spieth, 20, trying to become the youngest player to win the Masters, hasn't looked the newbie this week, it is because of the help of fellow Texas Longhorn Ben Crenshaw. The two-time Masters champion talked with Spieth about Augusta National at an event in Austin, Texas, earlier this year and the two spoke Sunday and Monday this week, though their planned practice round was rained out.

Crenshaw's caddie, Carl Jackson, who has humped Crenshaw's bag at the Masters since 1976, also spoke with Spieth and Spieth's caddie, Michael Greller, a former middle school teacher also making his Masters debut. Spieth also consulted with Jack Nicklaus at a Wednesday dinner.

Spieth declined to elaborate on specifics of the conversations, but one has to believe Crenshaw, one of the game's best putters, had guidance for surfaces that rolled like a skate park Saturday.

Now Spieth owns a share of the lead with 2012 champion Bubba Watson after three rounds at the year's first major. Spieth shot a tame 2-under-par 70 on Saturday and is at 5-under 211 for the tournament.

Spieth, who had no status on a major professional tour to start 2013, will tee off the final group with Watson at 2:40 p.m. Sunday. Despite the steely performance through three rounds, Spieth shares moments that remind he can't legally buy a drink.

"I'm 20 and this is the Masters, and this is a tournament I've always dreamt about and, like Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody," Spieth said.

Watson reached 8 under early in his round with an eagle at the second and led by four, but his 74 included five bogeys. He led until pulling a pitching wedge on the par-3 16th to the short side and failing to make par.

Watson said the greens were much firmer than Friday and have been firmer in recent years than he ever remembers.

Still, the former University of Georgia golfer is in position for a second green jacket in an area where "Go Dawgs" probably rings more frequently from spectators.

"If somebody told me on Monday I'd have 74 and still be tied for the lead, I'd have taken it all day long," he said.

The final group will be chased by Matt Kuchar and Jonas Blixt at 212 and Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rickie Fowler at 213.

Kuchar has finished in the top 10 here the past two years. He reached 5 under Saturday but three-putted and bogeyed the final hole on a green with "next to no grass."

Tied for third is his best start to a final round at the Masters.

"I'm very excited to have another crack at it," said Kuchar, who has six top-10 finishes this season, including second at the Shell Houston Open and fourth at the Valero Texas Open the past two weeks.

Experience crams the leaderboard, except for the Dallas kid cloaked in Under Armour.

Spieth turned pro in December 2012 with no status and used sponsor's exemptions to earn more than $500,000 and gain special temporary status. Then he won the John Deere Classic, surviving five playoff holes to earn his first Masters invite.

The Masters is also a first for Greller, the sixth-grade teacher who shed his career of more than a decade to loop for Spieth. What started as a one-year sabbatical turned into a full-time gig with Spieth's success.

Now the pair is enjoying its first trip among the pines.

Spieth has made seven bogeys through three rounds. He made four birdies on Saturday, with chances for more.

He showed a bit of youth on the par-3 12th, collapsing to the ground when he thought the wind had died and his shot would sail long. His ball landed on the green, maybe 18 feet behind the hole, and Spieth sheepishly strolled to the green.

"He's young, nerves are no big deal to him," Watson said. "I've won one, so I've got that going for me. But if I play bad tomorrow, I still have a green jacket, so that's the positive I have to go for."

Spieth can become the youngest Masters winner, supplanting Tiger Woods, who was 21 during his romp in 1997. Spieth and Woods also share a distinction as the only multiple winners of the U.S. Junior Amateur.

Spieth was born on July 27, 1993, days before Woods won his third consecutive Junior Am title.

Woods missed the Masters following back surgery after 19 consecutive appearances. Otherwise Spieth might have sought wisdom from the four-time champion.

Spieth's politeness -- referring to Mr. Crenshaw and Mr. Nicklaus -- drew a question about how he will address the 35-year-old Watson on Sunday.

"Mr. Watson, for sure," Spieth said. "Just because it will mess with him."

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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