McIlroy backs Spieth to hold his nerve on final day

Rory McIlroy has backed Jordan Spieth to handle a four-shot lead at the US Masters much better than he did when the Irishman was in a similar position four years ago.

McIlroy backs Spieth to hold his nerve on final day

By Simon Lewis

Rory McIlroy has backed Jordan Spieth to handle a four-shot lead at the US Masters much better than he did when the Irishman was in a similar position four years ago.

Spieth, a 21-year-old just 18 holes from winning his first Major, like McIlroy in 2011, will tee off at Augusta National tonight with his Masters fate in his own hands after he shot a Saturday 70 to move to 16-under-par for the tournament.

That meant he broke the record low score after 54 holes, his 200-shot total one better than both Raymond Floyd in 1976 and Tiger Woods in 1997.

The Texan will bid to hold off the challenge of nearest rival Justin Rose, with Phil Mickelson and Charley Hoffman a further shot behind.

World number one McIlroy, who shot a third-round, four-under-par 68 yesterday, is part of a five-strong group also including Woods and Dustin Johnson who lie 10 shots off the pace in a tie for fifth.

But the four-time Major champion is acutely aware that anything could happen on the last day of a Major, not least the Masters.

It was in 2011 that a then Major-less McIlroy crumbled on the back nine having led for 63 holes, his final round 80 relegating him to a tie for 15th - but the Holywood star believes Spieth's experience in the final group of last year's Masters will stand the American in good stead.

“I think the good thing for him is he's already experienced it once,” McIlroy said.

“He's played in the final group at the Masters before. It didn't quite happen for him last year, but I think he'll have learned from that experience. I think all that put together, he'll definitely handle it a lot better than I did.”

McIlroy has not given up hope of pulling off a miracle with what would be the greatest come-from-behind win in Masters history, and completing a career slam of Majors in the process.

Yet having jumped out to eight-under-par thanks to some magnificent golf including an eagle at the par-five second and four further birdies, he admitted it was a longshot having finished his third round bogey-par-bogey.

“We all know pretty much where the pin positions are going to be tomorrow. And there's some holes that you can get close to and be aggressive and there's some holes that you can't.

“So again, try and get off to a good start like I did today, and if I can do that, you know, it really depends on what the guys do the back nine.

“But if I was to go out and shoot 30, yeah, it's going to.... look, I'm going to need something basically around 61, 62 to have a real chance. I'm not sure that's going to happen but we'll see.”

McIlroy will be partnering Woods for the final round, the first time in a major they've played together since the opening two rounds of the 2013 US Open at Merion.

Four-time Masters champion Woods showed some glimpses of the old self that won his most recent Green Jacket 10 years ago this weekend as he too shot a 68, also blemished by late bogeys, at 14 and 18.

He and McIlroy were not the only ones, though, as Spieth had to endure his own wobbles late on, with a double bogey at 17 that could have derailed a less even-tempered golfer, particularly as Rose was beginning to close in.

The 2013 US Open champion from England had sunk four birdies in a row between 12 and 16 and earned his ticket to the final group with an excellent birdie putt at the last from the back of the green.

Spieth would have heard the roar as Rose's putt dropped for a round of 67 and when he pushed his second shot at 18 to the right of the green, he left himself a mountain to climb to make par from a notoriously difficult location, looking down the hill to a lightning-quick green that kept sloping away from his ball.

It looked a definite bogey or worse from there but Spieth conjured a superb up and down in those unlikely circumstances, his lob wedge an inch-perfect shot that held on the green and left him with a nine-foot par putt.

The pressure will have been enormous, Spieth facing his lead being cut to three shots if he missed, but once again he kept his nerve and hold a key putt for a two-under 70, enough to maintain his four-stroke lead heading to the final day.

“I'll just take patience,” Spieth said of the task ahead. “I think I've said it each day in here and before the tournament: There's going to be roars.

“Phil is going to have a lot of roars in front. “Obviously a few groups up I think is Tiger and Rory ... well, you're going to hear something there.

“But especially in the group in front of us, everyone loves Phil. Why wouldn't you love Phil? And he's going to make some noise and he's going to make a run.

“In our group, Justin is going to do the same and Charley is going to do the same. It's about just throwing those out of my mind, not worrying about it, not caring, setting a goal and being patient with the opportunities that are going to come my way.

“I feel comfortable with the way I'm striking it. My putting stroke feels good.

“So all in all, I've got to watch my speed and just have enough patience tomorrow.”

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