By Ron Sirak
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters and 18th major championship in 1986 at 46, a common refrain was that we would never see the likes of him again. There was simply too much talent for anyone to ever dominate like that.
Ten years later we had Tiger Woods.
The lesson here is this: Someone always comes along. Greatness is rare, but it doesn't go extinct. Bobby Jones gave way to Ben Hogan who passed the torch to Nicklaus who handed it onto Woods.
Will it pass next to Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan in position to break Tiger's record as the youngest Masters winner?
A victory Sunday by Spieth would be especially timely given Tiger's absence this year at Augusta National and the likelihood that golf will continue to be without him into the summer and, as some are whispering, maybe all year as he recovers from back surgery.
Spieth pushed his way to the top of the leader board with a gritty 70 on Saturday to finish 54 holes at five-under 211, tied with 36-hole pacesetter (and 2012 Masters champion) Bubba Watson.
Instead of Tiger vs. Phil in Sunday's final round we have Jordan vs. Bubba -- a pairing that seems plenty appealing in its own right.
Spieth, who calls pretty much everyone older than him Mister, says he'll do that Sunday. "Yup, Mr. Watson," he said during his post-round press conference, adding with good humor. "Just because if will mess with him."
The way Spieth stood up to the pressure Saturday leads you to believe he could do it again Sunday. After a bogey on No. 11 and a par on the birdieable par-5 13th, he rallied to birdie Nos. 14 and 15. He then suggested his nerves were in good working order when he made solid pars on the three closing holes to position himself perfectly for the final round.
"I felt like my lag putting was great and that's what you need around here," Spieth said. "I plan to do the same tomorrow." He called the course "pure, fair, extremely difficult and wicked fast."
Certainly, burdening Spieth with the expectation of being the next Woods or Nicklaus is unrealistic. He need not be that dominating, however, to still be special.
Spieth earned his PGA Tour card last year -- and an invitation to the Masters -- by winning the John Deere Classic on a sponsor's exemption, becoming the first teenager to win a tour event since Ralph Guldahl in 1931. He also finished second to Patrick Reed in a playoff at the Wyndham Championship in August.
So far in 2014, he's been second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, T-4 in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, made it to the quarterfinals in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and was 10th in the Valero Texas Open. There has been no let up in Year 2 as a tour pro.
"I can take a lot of confidence out of today," Spieth said. "Tomorrow is about seeing how my emotions and game hold up against guys who have done it before."
Spieth has a chance to become the first Masters rookie to take home the green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Already No. 13 in the World Ranking, Spieth could position himself to make a run at No. 1 while Woods is on the disabled list.
And wouldn't that make the anticipation of Tiger's return to competition even more intense? Seventeen years after Woods made history here, Spieth has a chance to do the same.