Date: April 10, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Day within reach of green jacket

Jason Day is suddenly just three shots from what he believes is his Masters destiny.

Day fired one of just five sub-par rounds on a day of fierce winds at Augusta National, a 71 that lifted him to even par overall and within reach of Jordan Spieth after the champion’s spectacular late collapse.

Spieth endured an up-and-down round, but had recovered to be two under through 16 holes with birdies on 12, 14 and 15.

But a bogey/double-bogey finish brought the field rushing back towards him despite maintaining the lead at three under, remarkably a record seventh consecutive round he’s led the Masters.

Joining Spieth in the final group tomorrow is unheralded American Smylie Kaufman on his Masters debut. The 24-year-old made three birdies in his final six holes today to finish at -2 after a 69, the first round better than 70 since the first round.

Even more remarkable is that 58-year-old Bernhard Langer, who won his second green jacket months before Spieth was born in 1993, shot a 70 alongside Day to sit at one under overall.

Langer will be joined in the second-last pair – and on the same total – by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who threatened the lead until his putter went ice cold in the closing four holes en route to a 72.

Day will play alongside Dustin Johnson (72) in the third-last pair out tomorrow, while England’s Danny Willett (72) is the only other player at level par.

Agonisingly again for Rory McIlroy, the world No.3 had another Masters meltdown and shot a 77 to finish at two over, while Danny Lee and Scott Piercy both tumbled from contention with a pair of 79s.

Day, 28, made a couple of great par saves on the sixth and seventh to keep his score afloat in the windiest part of a wild day.

The world No.1 then hit a spectacular approach to birdie the ninth, then wiped away a bogey on 12 with birdies on 13 and a 25m bomb on 14 to vault into red numbers.

Three putts from the fringe on 16 put an end to that, but Spieth’s late dramas put Day well within reach.

“I need to kind of show a little bit more patience tomorrow, even though I'm going to have score opportunities, I don't want to make mistakes,” the Queenslander said.

“(I need to) make birdies when I can, keep pushing forward, because obviously the wind is going to die down and hopefully it's enough tomorrow.

“But we'll see how it goes. Sundays at Augusta is a different story. It's an always fun to play Sunday in contention.”

Day was in awe of Langer, who won his first green jacket 31 years ago and still dominates the US PGA’s Champions Tour.

“(At times) he was at least 60 to 80 yards behind me (off the tee) and he just kept going along and really knows his strengths and weaknesses,” Day said of the German veteran who also made a great birdie on 14.

“It was pretty cool, because obviously he gave me knuckles on the way (to his ball).  He was going back and forth between hitting a putter and a chip and he ended up hitting the chip and chipped in.  We were both kind of urging each other on.

“He's a dominant player out on the Champions Tour.  He was a dominant player out here on the (regular) tour.  He was No.1 in the world at one point.

“It just goes to show how competitive he is.  To be able to be a 58-year-old man (and) be competitive with us, and want it as much as he did 40 years ago, is pretty impressive.”

Spieth was clearly flat after his finish, but said he’d have jumped at his position if offered before the tournament.

And as his imperious Augusta National record continues to build, he’s still the man to beat.

“I played better than I scored today,” the American said.

“It was a really tough finish to go from holding a four-shot lead and being in a very similar position to last year to where all of the sudden now it's anyone's game, so it's tough to swallow that.

“But I'm in the lead after 54 holes.  If you told me that at the beginning of the week, I'd be obviously very pleased.  So it's mixed feelings right now.

“I've certainly felt better last year on Saturday night than I do right now. I had a four-shot lead and everything was going right (when I) just came off a great up-and-down on 18.

“Yeah, I felt much better … about my position last year than I do right this second, just because of what happened in the last 40 minutes.

“But at the same time, I feel that if I can get to the range, straighten the ball out tomorrow, I get back to the same routine I was just in, I certainly think that down the stretch, I'm better prepared now than I was at this point last year.

“It's hard for me to say that because we just answered every statement made on the golf course last year on Sunday.  So I can't rely on the putter the way I did today.”

Adam Scott couldn’t find a birdie until the 15th, but hung tough in the worst of the conditions to fire a 75 and finish at seven over in a tie for 34th.

Less fortunate was fellow Queenslander Cameron Smith who had two doubles and seven bogeys en route to an 82 that left him 13 over.