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AUGUSTA - He’s not as physically imposing, as brash or the least bit polarizing. He doesn’t pound drives past the field, and his swing feels less than effortlessly fluid.
Twenty years after Tiger Woods made the golf world tremble with his dominance at the ’97 Masters, Jordan Spieth is sending shivers through the 2017 Masters field – in his own way.
The 23-year-old finds himself in Sunday contention for the fourth consecutive year, in his first four Masters appearances. In his first three attempts, he entered Sunday with the lead or co-lead. He’s never finished worse than second.
“This will be a new experience for me, trying to come from behind (Sunday) at the Masters, which is pretty fun to say,” Spieth said with a smirk after his third round 68, leaving him at 4-under and tied for fourth, two shots behind co-leaders Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia entering Sunday. Rickie Fowler begins the day 5-under and will be paired with Spieth in the final round.
“I plan to play aggressive because at this point, it’s win or go home,” Spieth said. “So you pull off the shots and you make the putts…I want to give myself a chance for that to be enough. And if I don’t, then so be it. Finishing fifth versus tenth doesn’t mean much to me.”
He’s been the hunted, now he’s ready to be the hunter Sunday in Augusta.
Spieth just shouldn’t be in contention this year. He carded a quadruple bogey on the par-5 15th Thursday, a setback that reminded the world of his quadruple bogey on 12 in the final round of the 2016 Masters, costing Spieth his second consecutive green jacket.
No golfer in history has ever recovered from a triple bogey – let alone a quad - and gone on to win the Masters.
“I know that anything can happen,” Spieth said Saturday.
“It’s tough protecting a lead on this golf course because you have to be aggressive to win. And protecting the lead, you don’t want to play aggressive.”
He’s 23, and he already owns a green jacket and a share of Tiger’s tournament record of 18-under from 2015.
Since 2014, he’s 29-under at the Masters. The next closest competitor since Spieth began driving Magnolia Lane is Rose, at 18-under.
And Spieth rained birdies Saturday in a Tiger-like fashion, recording five birdies in a 10-hole stretch that catapulted him near the top of the Augusta leaderboard – again.
“I guess the golf course was Tiger-proofed at one point. You can’t really Jordan-proof it,” Spieth said Saturday of Augusta National, his insightfulness and humility on display.
“I don’t overpower it – my fairway hit percentage is 55 percent. That’s not very good. These are very wide fairways.”
Still, the leaders know he’s there, lurking.
“Jordan obviously has a special relationship with the Masters. He’s going to feel great about his chances (Sunday),” co-leader Rose said after his round.
“He’s got a great golfing brain. This is a very strategic golf course, and you have to make good, smart decisions. It tempts you at times. It can dangle the carrot.”
In a golfing world that recently lost an icon in Arnold Palmer, and has seen Tiger fall from dominance, Spieth can build his own legend Sunday.
Second-first-second-first in your first four trips to Augusta National? That’s a legend. If he wins Sunday, that’s Jordan Spieth.
Vince Johnson is covering his ninth Masters Tournament. You can follow his Masters coverage in real time on Twitter @vincejohnson.