THERE were plenty of thrusts on moving day. Ones from Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods faltered at the finish. Phil Mickelson’s stalled a bit, too. Justin Rose made his move late on. Once the dust had settled, Jordan Spieth was still out in front in the 79th Masters, though his day wasn’t without a hiccup.
Seven clear at one point, the 21-year-old took a double-bogey 6 at the 17th. He was in danger of undoing more of his good earlier work after pushing his tee shot into the crowd at the last but salvaged a 4 thanks to an outrageous chip.
A third-round 70 for a 16-under-par total of 200 - a new 54-hole record - gives him a four-shot lead over Scottish Open champion Rose (67) heading into the final round, with three-times winner Mickelson (67) a shot back in third.
Charley Hoffman birdied the last for a 71 to stay in the mix on ten-under, but both McIlroy and Woods have mountains to climb after late dropped shots took the gloss off their day’s efforts, the pair sitting ten off the lead along with American trio Kevin Na, Dustin Johnson and Kevin Streelman.
“It was huge,” admitted Spieth of his up and down at the last. “I’d maybe only achieve that one in five times so it was nice to see it (his six-foot par putt) go in after the disappointment at the 17th.” There, he was in trees with his drive then took four to get down from just short of the green.”
It will be the second year running that the Texan heads out in the final group. On his debut 12 months ago, he shared the lead with Bubba Watson, got his nose front after seven holes but faltered to finish joint-second.
“Last year definitely left a bad taste in my mouth,” admitted Spieth, who played in both the Junior Ryder Cup and Walker Cup in Scotland as an amateur and, of course, was on the American Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles last September. “I’m definitely looking to take revenge, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, found himself ten behind Spieth after a sluggish start but stormed home in 31, picking up five birdies in the last six holes, including one from around 25 feet at the 18th.
“That was kind of a bonus,” admitted the Englishman, who will defend his Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open title at Gullane in July. “I knew I needed that to get into the final pairing. That’s good as I will be able to keep and eye on Jordan and try and keep pace with him.”
Mickelson is another big danger to Spieth as he bids to become the second youngest after Tiger Woods to claim a coveted Green Jacket. “Even though it stalled a bit, it was a good round,” said the left-hander, who made three birdies in a row from the second then, in another burst, picked up three shots in four holes from the 13th.
Unusually, he was wearing a salmon pink top. “I don’t wear that colour well,” he admitted. “But I had a premonition after spending time with Arnold Palmer. He likes that colour and I needed to make a move so I pulled the top out and decided to wear it.”
He’ll be back in a more traditional sombre colour for a last-day assault. “I’ve won three times here wearing black and that’s what I’ll be wearing tomorrow. That colour helps me be aggressive - and that’s the way I need to play.”
McIlroy and Woods had almost identical days. Both signed for 68s that comprised of halves of 32 and 36. Both were left to rue late lapses. McIlroy, bidding to complete the career Grand Slam, dropped two shots in the last three. Four-times winner Woods also bogeyed the last.
“I got off to a good start and played the front nine well for the first time this week,” said McIlroy. “Four-under was nice for that and I then made a couple of birdies at the 13th and 15th to get to eight-under.
“It was a disappointing finish, but I felt I played pretty well. I’m going to need something like 61 or 62 tomorrow to have a real chance. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but we will wait and see.”
For Woods, it was another day when he could take comfort from the way he played, having not played competitively for two months before coming in here.
The 14-times major winner made an outrageous birdie at the 13th after his drive went left and less than 150 yards as the club flew out of his hands.
He described that as “stupidly good” but, by the same token, said a bogey that followed at the next hole had been “stupidly bad”.
Summing up his overall display, Woods said: “I’m starting to get my feel back and also the distance control on my shots. This is one of the hardest courses to come back on because every shot is often on an uneven lie.”
Like McIlroy, he’s looking to come out with all guns blazing in the final round. “I’ve got to shoot 30 or 31 on the front nine to give myself a chance on the back nine and then continue that.”
In getting to 18-under at one point, Spieth became only the second player after Woods to reach that lofty mark in this event. He’s opened the door a bit by dropping a couple, but the title is still in his hands.