AUGUSTA, Ga. — Just one look at the Masters leaderboard at the end of play on Saturday was all it took to make a person certain that something huge is in the offing on Sunday. The list is filled with the names of players who look at the same leaderboard and see their arms slipping into a green jacket.
“There are wonderful story lines,” said Justin Rose, who made birdies on six of his last 11 holes Saturday to shoot 67 and finish the third round of the Masters at 6 under, tied with Sergio Garcia for the lead with an all-star pack on their heels. Rickie Fowler is one stroke behind them and Jordan Spieth, Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman are one stroke in back of them.
“Jordan obviously has a wonderful relationship with the Masters. He’s going to feel great about his chances tomorrow,” Rose said in the interview room as he surveyed the large scoreboard. “Rickie is a very confident player. He’s going to be searching for his first major championship. Sergio is going to have a wonderful opportunity tomorrow.
“Obviously, I’m a major champion, but I’m looking for more. This is a place I dearly love and would dearly love to be part of the history here,” Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner, said. “Everybody has a story line. And I’m not even touching upon past champions who are right there, as well.”
That would mean Adam Scott, who is at 3 under, and Charl Schwartzel, at 2 under. The point is, players mostly came through on their prediction to score amid calm conditions after two days of wind. All of the aforementioned golfers broke par except for Hoffman, who shot par 72 and lost the lead by hitting into the water and making double-bogey 5 on the 16th hole. “Everybody knows with this back nine anything can happen. You can make birdies, eagles, bogeys,” Hoffman said.
Rose struck proverbial gold on that back nine, having jump-started his tournament with a birdie on the par-5 eighth. He made five more in his final seven holes, finishing with a 3 at the last. “I think this course offers you that. It offers you a run,” he said. “I took advantage of the par-5s — 8, 13, 15 — and stole a couple more.”
The Olympic gold medalist had been going nowhere on the front side before he and his caddie regrouped after the seventh, when Rose was five strokes out of first place. “We kind of knew we were being tested at that point in the tournament. We were playing well but we weren’t really making inroads towards the lead and chose to stay patient because that’s the only choice that we really had. And it kind of paid off,” he said.
So Sunday he will be in the final group with Garcia, his friend and frequent European Ryder Cup teammate. The 37-year-old from Spain is tantalizingly close to ending the frustrating search for his first major title. Garcia occasionally has ruefully questioned fate, but saw a sign that maybe the stars are aligning his way this time.
His approach on No. 13 fell short of the green and seemed headed back into the water in front. But the ball stopped midway down the slope. He made birdie on his way to a 2-under-par 70. “I still had to hit a great chip to make 4,” he said.
Garcia insisted again that he has made peace with Augusta, having learned to accept that the course gives and takes. He is prepared to mix patience with aggressiveness during what figures to be a shootout on Sunday.
“I am a leaderboard looker or watcher. Not like some of the guys that say they don’t look at the leaderboards, which I’m not so sure I believe,” he said. “You’re trying to step on the gas at all times because you’re trying to make as many birdies as you can.”
He is much more mature than he was at 19, doing an airborne scissors kick to see the result of a shot during the 1999 PGA Championship. “I don’t know if I can jump quite as high because I’ve got a little more weight on me,” he said. “But I think I could probably do it quite close.”
A green jacket Sunday might make him, and a bunch of other guys, want to give it a try.