AUGUSTA, Ga. - Jordan Spieth might have done himself a favor with that double-bogey stumble on No. 17 Saturday. By not continuing to be consistently dominant, Spieth doused the inevitable comparisons to you-know-who.
No, he is not the Next Tiger Woods, which is a relief and not necessarily a bad thing.
We all know that it always happens. So-and-so was the Next Ted Williams or the Next Willie Mays. Every time a good young golfer pops up, he is the Next Tiger Woods.
That would have been an especially easy jump to make in Spieth's case, given that he is in position to win the Masters at 21, as Woods did, and had just reached 18 under, which only Woods ever has done at the Masters (in the fourth round).
Spieth did end the third round with an even score of 200, one better than Woods' and Ray Floyd's record for 54 holes. But thanks to the double bogey on No. 17, Spieth is 16 under and his final round looks to be a horse race, not the coronation that Woods had with a 12-stroke winning margin in 1997.
Spieth is a distinctive figure, to be sure, but not a pop culture icon in the making. He wasn't groomed from a young age to be a transformative force as a golfer. He never swung clubs on national TV at the age of 2. Spieth got started with a set of plastic clubs when he was 4 to keep him busy while his mom took care of his younger brother.
Being the Next Tiger Woods is a tricky proposition. The first was Sergio Garcia, who looked as if he would follow in the young superstar's footsteps when he was a rambunctious, precocious 19-year-old at the 1999 PGA. But Garcia still has yet to win his first major. He won't do it this week, having shot 1-under-par 71 to finish at 3 under while playing alongside Woods on Saturday.
"I usually don't enjoy my rounds a lot here on this golf course, because I don't feel very comfortable on it. I didn't play great, but at least I managed to shoot a decent score," Garcia said, adding that he had no problems with the pairing despite the two golfers' frosty relationship.
Rory McIlroy was another Next Tiger Woods. He idolized him, then pulverized the 2011 U.S. Open in Woods-like fashion and joined his hero in the Nike universe. But McIlroy has deftly steered his own respectful course, developing a totally independent persona.
Heck, even Woods is struggling to be Woods these days. He is having all kinds of trouble approaching the high bar he set for himself, having gone since 2008 without winning a major. Injuries, swing changes and poor choices off the course have left him searching. This Masters has been a signpost in his recovery from the apparent chipping yips that forced him into a two-month exile.
He followed his 69 Friday with a 68 Saturday -- his first back-to-back sub-70 Masters rounds in a single year since 2005, the last time he won here. "I think what I've done all week has been pretty good," he said. "Coming from where I came from and having to change my entire release pattern, that was tough. People have no idea how hard it was to do that."
When Woods severely hooked his tee shot on No. 13, he let out a profanity heard on TV, and CBS later apologized to viewers. Spieth talks to his golf ball a lot, but it's PG-rated, at worst.
The Texan said the other day that in no way would he ever consider himself in Woods' class. That is smart, accurate and no tragedy.
They come from completely different generations, a fact Woods acknowledged this week when he said, "I won the Masters when Jordan was in diapers." Spieth, who was 3 in April 1997, said, "I can't confirm that."