McIlroy, Woods in pursuit of Spieth

2015-04-11 19:48
Tiger Woods (AFP)

Augusta - The charge was on at the Masters on Saturday to reel in young American Jordan Spieth, who led the tournament by five strokes at the halfway stage.

Leading the chase were the two biggest names in the sport - Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods - but both were facing a mountain to climb with 12 strokes separating them from the 21-year-old Texan.

To date, eight strokes has been the biggest halfway deficit anyone has overcome to win the Masters - a feat achieved by Jack Burke in 1956.

McIlroy, who has seen his hopes of becoming just the sixth player to win all four Grand Slam titles all but blown out of the water, was first off, playing in the company of defending champion Bubba Watson.

The world number one, winner of the two previous majors, started with a bang, holing a 37-foot putt for eagle at the second to get to four under.

Woods got his third round underway half an hour later with all eyes on what the interplay would be like between himself and Sergio Garcia - the pair not being on the best of terms recently over remarks the Spaniard made.

The 39-year-old American was upbeat after his 69 on Friday which saw him play his best golf of what has so far been a wretched year.

Few believe he can get himself into contention to win a 15th major and fifth Masters, but even a top-15 finish would give him a platform upon which he could continue to rebuild his flagging career.

Spieth, meanwhile was aiming to convert two days of inspired golf into a first major title at the tender age of 21.

The Texan has set Augusta National alight with two rounds of 64 and 66 that saw him record 15 birdies against just one bogey.

In so doing, he became the youngest player to lead the Masters after the first round, and his 130 halfway total is the lowest-ever in 79 editions of the year's first major.

He is firmly in a winning position, but remains aware that he still has much to do, as he learned last year when he led the Masters after 54 holes, but ended up tied for second behind Bubba Watson.

"Just like I've said each time every day, what I learned was patience," he said after his 66 in the second round.

"What I learned was that the weekend of a major, those rounds can often seem like two rounds in kind of the mental stuff that's running through your head; the stress levels, and sometimes they are higher.

"The hardest thing to do is put aside wanting to win so bad, and just kind of going through the motion and letting my ball striking and putting happen."

The closest to Spieth, and the player who will be his partner for Saturday in the final pairing, is Charley Hoffman, a unheralded 39-year-old American who is something of a late bloomer.

But further down the line there is a wealth of golfing talent ready to make a charge at the young Texan or profit from any faltering on his part.

Bunched on seven under, seven off the pace, are Dustin Johnson, who had an unprecedented three eagles on Friday, back-on-form Englishman Paul Casey and 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose, also of England.

Three-time former winner Phil Mickelson is a further shot back and primed to pounce, while South African veteran Ernie Els is alone on 139.

The four-time major winner has been hugely impressed by Spieth, even watching video playback of his first round 64 to learn how to post a better score at the weekend.

"At the moment he's doing unbelievably well," Els said. "But it's not over. Big weekend ahead, a lot of golf to be played."

Read more on:    masters  |  tiger woods  |  golf

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