Sports

Jordan Spieth still in control at the Masters

Jordan Spieth leads Justin Rose by four shots and Phil Mickelson by five with 18 holes to play

The consensus from those who have been in Jordan Spieth's soft spikes can be summed up like this: Chillax, kid. You'll be fine.

No one seems to believe that Spieth will encounter any serious trouble Sunday in his quest to become the second-youngest winner in Masters history.

In 1997, Tiger Woods slipped on his first green jacket at 21 years and 3 months. Spieth is five months his senior.

"He's playing steady Eddie — and that's all he needs to do," Woods said. "He's long enough and it's warm enough where the par-fives are reachable. You handle the par-fives, stay away from bogeys, and if you're going to miss, miss it in the right spots and you can get it up and down."

Seconds after Woods uttered those words to CBS, Spieth moved to 16 under with a birdie on No. 12. He finished the day there after an ugly three-putt double bogey on No. 17.

His three-round total of 200 bettered by one the mark set by Ray Floyd in 1976 and equaled by Woods in 1997 on his way to a 12-shot victory and his first major title.

Spieth survived a date with the devil after slashing his approach into the gallery well right of the 18th green. A remarkable up-and-down left him with a 70 and in the exact same spot as Rory McIlroy four years ago.

McIlroy was 21 when he took a four-shot lead into Masters Sunday in 2011. Friends warned him not to check his phone Saturday night, fearing he might lose focus and listen to suggestions. McIlroy couldn't help himself and suffered a meltdown, shooting a back-nine 43 for an eight-over 80.

"He'll definitely handle it a lot better than I did," McIlroy said, pointing to how Spieth played in the final group with Bubba Watson at the Masters last year. "I think he'll have learned from that experience."

Spieth held it together last year, shooting a final-round 72. That's one reason Watson believes Spieth will be fine Sunday.

Here's another: The kid can play.

Watson noted that Spieth played in a PGA Tour event at an age when most boys are simply trying to pass their road test — 16. More remarkable, he tied for 16th at the Byron Nelson.

"Obviously, he's a lot more of a veteran than we give him credit for," Watson said. "He's a great talent, solid, and he's been playing probably the best of all of us in the last six months or so."

Said Zach Johnson, who won at Augusta National in 2007: "He's just got to play solid, keep doing what he's doing. He's got to play cliche golf."

Yes, fairways and greens. Two putts. Miss it in the right spots. Focus on the next shot, not those chasing you.

"The kid's so mature," Johnson said. "And he's realistic. He knows he can't get too lackadaisical."

Plus there's this: Augusta National has been downright tame. The lack of wind and high humidity has allowed players to fire at these sticky greens.

Red numbers ruled again Saturday. Justin Rose finished strong for a 67 and is in second place. Phil Mickelson is one behind Rose after a 67.

Woods made an early move, finishing with a 68, as did McIlroy. They will play together Sunday. But they are 10 shots behind Spieth.

Ian Poulter was among the many who thrived, firing a five-under 67.

"He's the hottest guy on the planet," Poulter said of Spieth. "He's got no scar tissue on this golf course. He played his first Masters last year, finished second. He's got good thoughts.

"So it's for the guys behind to chase. They might be able to put the squeeze on, but it's up to him, it's in his hands. The way he's playing right now and rolling the ball, it's up to him."

tgreenstein@tribpub.com

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