Jordan Spieth leaves indelible mark on Augusta

Jordan Spieth was staying one step ahead of his nearest challengers as his bid for a wire to wire Masters victory remained on course at Augusta National last night.

Jordan Spieth leaves indelible mark on Augusta

Record-breaking Spieth, 21, who set new marks for the lowest 36- and 54-hole totals, did see his four-shot overnight lead pared back over the final-round front nine but weathered the storm as easily as he has done all week since an opening 64 sent him to the top of the leaderboard on Thursday evening.

Spieth turned for home with a six-shot cushion and, as Rory McIlroy had predicted on Saturday night, he was dealing with the pressure of leadership much better than the Irishman had in a similar situation and at the same age four years previously.

The American’s last-group playing partner Justin Rose narrowed the lead to three strokes on the front nine while others in pursuit of the three-day leader, including McIlroy but not a struggling Tiger Woods, also improved their scores on a day when tournament officials gave the field some pin positions that offered birdie opportunities, albeit on fast-firming greens.

Yet Spieth, who started the day at 16 under par and then birdied the first and third holes to move once again to 18 under before dropping those shots at the fifth and seventh holes, was showing no sign of cracking under the pressure exerted by his rivals. Just as he had done throughout this, his second Masters appearance, any misstep made by the Dallas golfer was quickly atoned for as he rebounded immediately with a birdie at the par-five eighth to restore a four-shot lead and every time one of his rivals closed the deficit, he responded with a birdie of his own.

It was the sort of play that underlined the comments of his Ryder Cup team-mate and friend Keegan Bradley, who spoke of the tough competitor inside Spieth.

“He’s one of these guys that doesn’t have a weakness at all,” Bradley said. “He just does everything really well. And he putts the ball really, really well. He’s one of the guys that can wear you down, hit a bunch of fairways, bunch of greens and then he’ll make two or three or four 20-footers.”

None of those others on the leaderboard was playing badly, save for Woods, whose resurgence after a nine-week break from the PGA Tour to try and fix his game was suffering a relative speedbump.

Spieth was simply playing better. Englishman Rose had also birdied the par-four first and he closed the gap for the first time at the second to get to 14 under, only to bogey the par-three sixth.

Three-time champion Phil Mickelson birdied the second but bogeyed the par-four fifth, gained a shot at the eighth and then gave it back at the par-four ninth. Dustin Johnson, too, got some momentum, getting from six under to 10 by the 11th only to drop a shot at the par-three 12th, the centrepiece of Amen Corner that had been his nemesis on Saturday when he took double-bogey.

There were those making moves and staying on the front foot but they were coming from too deep to concern Spieth. Hunter Mahan jumped from three under to eight, 2007 champion Zach Johnson got to the same mark from four under, as did Hideki Matsuyama from five under.

McIlroy, meanwhile, had signalled his intent to attack with a monster 354-yard drive in the fairway at the first but had to settle for pars at his first six holes. His first birdie came at the par-four seventh thanks to a wonderful approach from 135 yards to three feet, followed up with a birdie on the par-five eighth and another at the 11th, again his second-shot play paying dividends, this time from 166 yards to six feet on the week’s toughest hole. Still, he was closing in on his best Masters finish, moving into outright fourth place with a birdie at the par-five 15th that took him to 11 under, easily his best scoring performance at Augusta.

Playing partner Woods was six under playing the last.

Amidst it all, Spieth remained calm, matching his rivals’ moves with a birdie at the 10th when Mickelson and Rose had threatened to close the gap, and again the 13th to respond to Rose’s birdie in kind after both had unleashed great approach shots. It was a display of sporting serenity deserving of a green jacket.

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