During most weeks of the golfing year, the notion of moving day is a bit of a red herring. But at Augusta National, it matters. Eighteen of the past 20 winners improved or maintained their position on the leaderboard through the third round, and all 20 of them were placed T5 or better at the 54-hole stage.
So, who did the business this Saturday? Here’s the report card on those world top 10 players who made the weekend, other key contenders and one wild card.
Grade: C-minus; World ranking: No. 2; Score: 71 (-1)
Two steps forward, one step back; it’s an exasperating process, but it gets you where you want to go. Unfortunately, Rory’s week has been more like two steps forward, two steps back; or two steps backward, two steps forward. Doesn’t really matter, one way or another, he’s ended up where he started: level-par and mightily frustrated about what might have been.
Grade: B; World ranking: No. 3; Score: 69 (-3)
Job done. He bettered marker Jeff Knox, the cult-hero Augusta National member who accompanies the odd man out at the weekend and has famously, um, embarrassed a few of golf’s superstars. In other news, Day nearly made an ace at the sixth and thrashed four straight birdies from the 12th.
Grade: D; World ranking: No. 4; Score: 74 (+2)
In the unlikely event that you find yourself being asked to beat Matsuyama head-to-head on one hole at Augusta, make it the seventh. He has not made par there all week. In fact, he’s 5 over for that hole alone, so you could argue that’s why he is not in red figures for the week. He entered the tournament saying that everything was not quite working and has played like it.
Grade: A; World ranking: No. 6; Score: 68 (-4)
A simple reminder: Spieth had made two quadruple-bogeys in his last 61 holes at Augusta and, despite that, finished T2 last year and lies T4 this year with 18 holes to play. If you don’t get how nuts that is, you might want to spend Sunday doing the ironing or mowing the lawn. He putts great, he hits the ball a ton better than everyone thinks, he’s got the heart of a lion — and he talks too much at perfectly good approach shots.
Grade: C-minus; World ranking: No. 7; Score: 71 (-1)
He landed 26 greens in regulation through 36 holes (joint top in the category) and hit another 16-of-18 in Round 3. The problem was, and continued to be, around the greens. He was only 2-for-7 for scrambles in Friday and could only convert 1-of-4 birdie opportunities from just off the green playing the par-5s Saturday.
Grade: B; World ranking: No. 8; Score: 71 (-1)
What a guy. A little look of Elvis, a touch of Leo DiCaprio, the head gear of a Lego man, and he plays golf like … a potential major winner? He’s never looked more focused and never seemed steelier in the heat of battle. Don’t overlook his bogey 5 at the third. He needed four stabs to find the green of the short par-4 but drained a nasty 14-footer for bogey. Birdies get the plaudits, but ugly bogeys are every bit as important.
Grade: B; World ranking: No. 9; Score: 69 (-3)
Stealthily flawless play from the 2013 champion. Three par-5 birdies and 15 pars add up to a neat scorecard that gives him an outside chance of claiming a second green jacket. He has pegged two sub-70 rounds this week. The only other times he’s done that at Augusta — T2 in 2011 and winner in 2013.
Grade: B; World ranking: No. 11; Score: 70 (-2)
He played the first 13 holes like a man whose clothes had been washed in itching powder. While that hints he was feeling the pressure, it maybe bodes well that he withstood it to post a score that keeps him in the running. Better to be twitchy on Saturday than Sunday. Holing from 7 feet on the last hole earned him a last round with Justin Rose instead of Spieth, which might make a massive difference to his chances of victory.
Grade: A; World ranking: No. 14; Score: 67 (-5)
Five birdies in the last seven holes — that’s how to make a move on Saturday. He has never missed the cut in the Masters, is a nine-time top-25 finisher (in 11 starts) and has had four top-10 finishes and a best of T2 in 2015.
Grade: F; World ranking: No. 18; Score: 74 (+2)
I might be proved wrong here, but I’m going to call it: This round was a turning point, and the sixth hole was the turning point within a turning point. Mickelson was playing with Spieth. They were both a touch further back at the start of the day than was ideal, but both are believers. Big believers. At the sixth, they were both level-par for the day. Phil had a huge par putt and missed it. Then, Spieth had more or less the same putt for birdie and drained it. Phil never recovered. Instead, he watched Spieth not only move into genuine contention, but also smash one from the pine needles into the heart of the 13th green doing so. It was like the sorcerer and his apprentice, and I’m saying this was a generational shift.
Two-time Masters champion (1980 and 1983). Golfing matador. Short-game genius. Brooding revolutionary. Spanish superstar. European legend. The secret ingredient on Sunday? It would have been the great man’s 60th birthday, and don’t discount the motivational possibilities. For Sergio. For Rose. There might be magic in the air.