AUGUSTA, GA. – Minnesotans who love golf can't always make it to Augusta during the first week of April, but those who attended the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National last fall got a taste of this weekend at the Masters.
European Ryder Cup standouts Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia will be last off the tee on Sunday and will follow American Ryder Cup members Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, who will be one group behind Ryan Moore, whose putt clinched the Americans' emotional victory at Hazeltine.
Rose and Garcia lead the Masters at 6 under par. Fowler is one behind and Spieth, Moore and fellow American Charley Hoffman are at 4 under.
"We could really push each other," Fowler said. "it's always fun when you're playing with one of your good buddies."
As was the case during the Ryder Cup, Saturday at the Masters featured a moving homage to Arnold Palmer. "What did Arnie do?" Jordan Spieth asked, before pulling off a dramatic shot into the 13th green.
Palmer would have appreciated what the patrons saw at Augusta National on Saturday. Spieth finished his round with a 70.07 scoring average in the Masters, the best of any player over the last 30 years with 15 or more rounds played, and Rose noted that you didn't need statistical analysis to enjoy the golf. "Blue skies, firm fairways," he said. "A beautiful day."
Rose produced the round of the day, a 67, to move into a first-place tie with Garcia. Sunday, Rose will attempt to become the second player ever to win majors at Merion and Augusta National. The other: Ben Hogan. He will also try to add a green jacket to the gold medal he won in the Olympics last summer in Rio.
Since the beginning of 2014, Rose is 30 under in the third rounds of majors, five shots better than anyone else. "There's wonderful story lines," Rose said. "Obviously, I'm a major champion, but I'm certainly looking for my first Masters and my first green jacket. This is a place I dearly love and would dearly love to be part of the history here."
Garcia had averaged a 75 in third rounds of the Masters before this Saturday, when he produced a 70 that included a 34 on the back nine. Sunday, he will try to win his first major at the age of 37 on what would have been the 60th birthday of countryman Seve Ballesteros, the first Spaniard to win a Masters.
"It's definitely improved," Garcia said of his relationship with the tournament. "The main thing that's improved is the way I'm looking at it."
If Spieth honored Palmer, Garcia inadvertently paid homage to Fred Couples, whose only major victory came at Augusta National in 1992 after his tee shot on 12 on Sunday refused to roll down the bank and into Rae's Creek. Saturday, Garcia's approach to the 13th displayed similar Velcro properties, staying improbably dry.
"I've definitely had some good breaks, through all three rounds," Garcia said. "Thirteen was one of them."
The leaderboard is packed with big names and stories. Fowler, second at minus-5, is a younger version of Garcia, a phenom who has failed to win a major. "This is by far the best I've ever felt in a major," Fowler said.
Moore shot 69 and is tied with Spieth and Hoffman at minus-4. Hoffman lost the lead with a 72 but made pars at 17 and 18 after hitting his tee shot at 16 into the pond.
Lurking in seventh and eighth place are two former Masters champions, Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel. Asked to rate the tournament on a scale of 10, Fowler said, "Eleven and a half."
Blues skies, green jackets and a scoreboard dripping with red. This could be a special Sunday at the Masters.