AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Bubba Watson squandered an early five-stroke advantage and was caught by 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who tied him for the lead at the end of a pressure-packed third round of the Masters on Saturday.
Spieth, playing with patience and discipline belying his years, posted a solid round of two-under-par 70 to match Watson at five-under-par 211 on a sunny day at Augusta National that baked the famed greens to lightning speeds.
Watson, the 2012 champion, needed to curl in a four-foot par-saving putt at the last to retain a share of the lead on a day in which he struggled around Augusta’s notoriously contoured greens.
One stroke back were Matt Kuchar, who fired a 68, and Masters first-timer Jonas Blixt of Sweden (71).
Another shot adrift at 213 were American Rickie Fowler (67) and 50-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who had seven birdies and one bogey in a tournament low score of 66.
An eagle at the par-five second hole helped Watson improve his overnight lead to a five-shot cushion, but that disappeared under a spell of bogeys that turned the year’s first major into a taut battle on a crowded leaderboard.
Three bogeys in four holes from the fourth dropped Watson into a tie with Blixt and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark at five under par with nine holes to play.
Ten players were bunched within two shots of the lead at that point, with Spieth emerging as co-leader after a round that included four birdies and two bogeys over the treacherously fast putting surfaces.
“Just patience,” Spieth said about the key to his round. “We could tell early on that the greens were ridiculous. You had to put the ball on the right spots and can’t let your focus stray for one moment.”
Spieth, who began the day four shots behind midway leader Watson, would eclipse Tiger Woods as the Masters youngest winner should be prevail. Woods was 21 when he won in 1997.
At the other end of the spectrum, Jimenez could surpass Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion, after vaulting in contention by matching the lowest Masters score by a player over 50 years old held by Ben Hogan (1967) and Fred Couples (2010).
Three shots behind the co-leaders were England’s Lee Westwood (70), Denmark’s Bjorn (73) and Jim Furyk (72).
The 54-year-old Couples, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England, Australian John Senden and Kevin Stadler were grouped at one under par heading into what could be a wild shootout for the year’s first major.
Editing by Gene Cherry