The 2015 MastersApril 10, 2015

No Sweat

Jordan Spieth may be 21, but he seems unfazed on the brink of winning a green jacket on Sunday

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jordan Spieth has looks, talent, money, that sweetheart smile, and he's cooler than the other side of the pillow. So, if the question is: How will he sleep tonight on the lead? Or if the question is: Can the kid, 21 years old, win golf's grandest tournament leading wire-to-wire? The answers are: Damn well and damn right.

Well, this takes some explaining, especially after Spieth made double bogey at the 17th, missing a short putt, and then fanned his second right of the 18th, requiring an up-and-down for a par that he might not duplicate again in a hundred tries.

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But, hey, I have made up mind. I'm going with the Henry Thoreau theory. The old Walden Pond guy wrote, "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk." Apparently, Hank's 19th century Massachusetts dairymen added stream water to their milk, a scam somewhat spoiled by a fish's presence. In Spieth's case, we have three days of direct evidence and almost two years of circumstantial evidence attesting to the kid's immense talent. Regardless of what our eyes told us on those last two holes today, there is little reason to doubt the Texan's ability to finish what he has started here so wonderfully.

Look, we also saw this. Suddenly, Tiger was Tiger again. Here came Phil Mickelson ker-lumphing out of some fog he has been in. Charley Hoffman, whoever he might have been, had become CHARLEY HOFFMAN, birdie man. Rory McIlroy eagled his second hole. Hello, Jordan! And with the world's best players reaching for his throat -- a five-shot lead can go poof -- what did Jordan Spieth do Saturday when he came to Augusta National's 9th hole? Remember what Greg Norman did at the 9th that year when he became the Great Lost Shark? Spun his second off the green and back down the fairway, a brain-lock shot that made Nick Faldo an immortal. And what did Spieth do there under Saturday's pressure?

Stiffed it.

Landed it on the fringe. Soft little bounce right. Five-foot birdie putt. He added four birdies on the back nine, better than anyone in the top 10, save Justin Rose, who had five and is now the runner-up. With a two-under-par 70 Saturday, Spieth will go to bed tonight on a four-shot lead. In 78 previous Masters only four players have lost from that far in front: McIlroy led by four in '11, Ken Venturi by four in '56, Ed Sneed by five in '79, and Norman by six in '96.

McIlroy had never led a major championship. He woke up that Sunday in 2011 hitting shots where no one had ever hit them en route to an 80 and a T-15 finish. Any advice for Spieth, then, from a man who has been there?

"I think the good thing for him is he's already experienced it once," McIlroy said. Only last year, tied for the lead, Spieth played in the last group here on Sunday. He shot 72 and lost by three to Bubba Watson. "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."

Anyone rooting for the kid -- I raise my hand -- had to be encouraged, too, by Spieth's par save at the 18th. From alongside a bunker, from a downhill lie against the grain of the mowed grass, he had a choice for his third shot to a pin position 40 feet away, maybe three steps onto a green sloping away from him. He could bump a wedge shot and hope it made it through the grass and then hope it stopped rolling before it got 25 feet past. Or he could hit a flop shot, meaning a full swing, sliding the wedge under the ball, popping it straight up with hopes it would land on the fringe and trickle onto the green, maybe 15 feet past the cup.

A year ago, he said, he would have bumped it.

But with another year's experience at golf's highest levels -- winning tournaments, playing on the Ryder Cup team, contending here -- "I felt confident trying the full flop."

He executed it beautifully. The ball bounced on the fringe and rolled downhill, nine feet past the cup. Only 10 minutes removed from missing a much shorter putt to make double at the 17th, Spieth ran this one in.

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"Obviously, being 4-under at one point in the round and closing it out at 2-under is disappointing," he said. But he pronounced himself "very pleased" with the up-and-down at 18. "That just took some guts. . . . it was nice to have seen that go that way, to play the aggressive play, and to close it out with a nice putt."

The finish gave him "a lot of confidence going into tomorrow," Spieth said. "It's not like Saturday versus Sunday should make any difference to me."

And yet he knows. Of course, he knows. He's a bright guy who knows Sunday from Saturday. Tiger and McIlroy are paired Sunday. "Well, you're going to hear something there," he said, meaning the galleries' roars. Mickelson will be directly ahead of Spieth and Rose. "Why wouldn't you love Phil? 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 (Hoffman) 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."

That, he will do. And he, too, will hear the roars.