Date: April 09, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Take a breath, it’s gonna be a long weekend

Just what Masters organisers needed to help promote their struggling little tournament, right?

Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in the final third-round pairing – the classic “promoter’s dream”.

The phenom who’s just extended his record for having led the Masters alone for six consecutive rounds against the guy who needs a green jacket to complete the career grand slam.

But how it came about today was anything but from a script.

On the first Masters round since the third of 2007 when nobody bettered 70, Augusta National flexed its imposing muscle and knocked around some of the world’s greatest players.

There was talk before the 80th Masters began that the course might be produced in a manner such that last year’s 18-under winning total would be impossible.

We might never know the answer to that question in this colosseum of secrets, because the winds that have whipped across Georgia for the past two days have done the trick naturally.

Just four players — Dustin Johnson (T8), Daniel Berger (T8), Troy Merritt (T15) and McIlroy (2) – broke par in an unwitting salute to both the course and nature that left just 20 in red numbers after 20 started the round better than par.

Spieth, as is his burgeoning custom, exploded from the blocks with birdies on the first and third. But the rarest of four-putt (from the fringe) double-bogeys on the fifth was a portent of things to come just when his lead was five and seemingly growing.

To his obvious dismay and complete shock, Spieth’s approaches to the ninth and 10th holes rolled back off the greens and he took twin bogeys as a result.

He was clearly annoyed that his group was put “on the clock” on the 11th, but all seemed well by the 15th when a two-putt birdie had him square for the day and handily clear at six under.

But after a three-putt bogey on 16 and an errant approach long to 17, the defending champ had to make a spectacular sand save from the short side of the 18th to prevent three closing bogeys and with a one-shot buffer over McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman had been two over himself for his round when he stood on the 13th tee, but his putter clearly warmed up after Amen Corner and a bomb on the 16th was his third birdie in four holes.

McIlroy, too, made a great par save after an errant drive on the 18th.

But it wasn’t until Spieth’s group – containing boom amateur Bryson DeChambeau – finished that the long-time world No.1 was booked in the last pairing.

DeChambeau, the reigning NCAA and US Amateur champion, was remarkably three under with six birdies under his belt when he stood on the last tee.

A drive he declared unplayable in a holly bush was followed an even bigger hook that “got lucky” for him to drop clear of the timber, but only into a position from which he took a triple-bogey seven to finish square for the second straight day.

It highlighted the speed with which things can – and did – change around Augusta National when she has her game face on.

While Aussies Jason Day, Cam Smith and Adam Scott were beneficiaries of the late dramas as they charged closer to the lead, there were others who were caught in the maelstrom.

Zach Johnson took an eight on the 13th, including a post-round two-stroke penalty for just flicking the water on his backswing for a shot from the creek – inside the hazard lines – in front of the green and missed the six-over cut by that margin.

Marc Leishman closed with two bogeys to miss the cut by a shot, but the most dramatic collapse was that of his playing partner and triple champion Phil Mickelson.

The left-hander had been one under through the tough opening six holes before taking a double-bogey “from nowhere” on the seventh. He then three-putted from 1.2m on the eighth and had a third straight blemish on the ninth.

A bogey on 11 was seemingly forgotten by the 15th when he was still four over and well inside the cut line. But a drowned third was followed by another chip and two more putts for a second double.

Amazingly, he then carved his tee shot into the water left of the 16th with the pin placed far right and ultimately took a third double en route to a 79 and his worst Masters score in 90 career rounds to miss by a shot.

Yep, it was just that sort of day.

The weather is again tipped to be on the rugged side for the third round – and that’s about where a wise person would leave the predictions.