Masters Moving Day fails to take off

Spieth on verge of more records but Masters fails to find balance between excitement and challenge.

Rory vs Spieth. Winners of four of the last six major titles. World number two vs world number three. Power vs precision. Etc, etc.

Masters Saturday promised an epic duel between two of the best players in the world. Instead, fans were left with an occasion that flattered to deceive.

McIlroy failed to register a single birdie en route to a third-round 77. Meanwhile, Spieth seemed on the verge of another blow-out victory at the Masters as he led by four shots after excellent birdies at the 14th and 15th holes. He then crawled home with a bogey-double-bogey finish to finish only a shot ahead.

On the final hole, he hit a 50 yard driver slice, laid up his second shot, chunked his pitch and 3-putted for a 6. It summed up one of the more anti-climactic Saturdays that the Masters has seen.

The excitement on the day came from elsewhere with 58 year old Bernhard Langer rolling back the years with a fantastic 70 to head into Sunday t3. American Smylie Kaufman also underlined his credentials with one of the best rounds of the week considering the conditions. But on what is traditionally seen as ‘Moving Day’, staying static was rewarded.

World number 1 Jason Day at level par continued to lose and gain shots in equal measure yet managed to gain significant ground as other rivals fell all around him. Without hitting anywhere near top gear, the Australian is right in this tournament.

Windy conditions are a large factor for the poor scoring in this year’s Masters. While these weather conditions would be nothing on a links style course, the dryness and firmness of Augusta’s greens means havoc for the players. This was evidenced by Billy Horschel’s ball resting ball rolling off the green at the 15th hole after a gust of wind in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

Augusta is not meant to be played in such winds but the organisers of the tournament have made no effort to make the challenge any easier with tight pin placements on tough greens. One has to think that it is in response to last year’s record-breaking score by Jordan Spieth of -18, where two players finished -14 for second. This year, Spieth leads on -3 and there are four players under par. An almighty turn around in the space of one year. So much for the power hitters of today rendering the great course redundant, eh?

But in doing so, they have lost the magic of Augusta, which is made at the 13th and 15th holes on two of the greatest risk-reward holes in all of golf. Players were laying up or failing to make the green on Saturday and pars were the name of the day, which is great in a US Open but it is just not in the Masters.

The biggest disappointment of the day was still the Rory-Spieth duel. While straight showdowns between the best players in the world are common in other sports, the format of strokeplay tournaments mean that it just does not happen as often as it might. For example, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were rarely paired together when in the lead in majors despite a 15-20 year career collision course.

So naturally excitement was in the air when these two greats set foot on the course together. There was no doubting the victor of the day. On a day of a Heavyweight World title fight, Spieth was the Anthony Joshua of this bout, knocking out Rory in the second round. Spieth dominated Rory and there was no doubt who played the better golf was on the day.

Yet it was hardly vintage Spieth either on Saturday. Twitchy and indecisive with a number of shots, his pace of play was heavily criticised and it took away from both Rory’s natural fluid game and from the event as a spectacle. Spieth’s short game was in typically fine form but he hit several wayward shots which finally caught up with him on the final hole.

Spieth has now lead the Masters for seven consecutive rounds including last year’s event and eight of his 11 rounds in his short Augusta career so far. He could win a third major title before his idols Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and his second Masters long before those two also. He remains one of the best putters the game has seen in a long, long time. Let’s hope then if he does break history that he will be forced into it in true Masters fashion, by birdies and eagles, not pars and bogeys.

David Gorman

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