Augusta: Matt Kuchar reeled off two consecutive birdies to join fellow American Jordan Spieth in an early tie for the Masters lead at six-under par in Sunday’s final round.
Kuchar knocked in a tap-in at the par-five second, then chipped in from just off the green at the par-four third to join Spieth at the top on a warm day at Augusta National where the greens ran lightning fast.
Spieth, at the age of 20 aiming to become the youngest player to win the Masters putting him ahead of Tiger Woods who was 21 when he triumphed in 1997, had briefly held the outright lead after recording a birdie at the second.
Playing in the final pairing of the day with 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson, the remarkably composed Spieth struck a superb second shot to 10 feet at the second before sinking a left-to-right breaking putt for birdie from 10 feet.
Left-hander Watson, joint pacesetter overnight with Spieth in the year’s opening Major, was alone in third at five under after starting out par-par with Swede Jonas Blixt a further stroke back, after being on par in the first three holes.
A gripping finish to the 78th Masters always looked likely with 13 players separated by just four strokes at the top of the leaderboard after Saturday’s third round.
Intriguing storylines were in abundance, with virtually every player in contention capturing the imagination because of previous glittering achievements and rich promise for the future.
Pony-tailed Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, at the ripe age of 50 aiming to surpass Jack Nicklaus by becoming the oldest Masters champion, was at two under, after making an adventurous bogey-birdie-bogey start.
Fred Couples, the 1992 champion and still a major threat at Augusta National at 54, was just three strokes off the pace after making birdies on his first two holes, then parring the next five.
Whoever ends up winning will have to handle the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the back nine where danger and glory wait in equal measure.
Watson knows as well as anyone that every player in contention would feel the nerves as the drama intensified.
“We’re all trying to win the same trophy,” said the left-hander.
“We are all trying to do the same thing. We are all going to be nervous and we all know what it means to our career,” said Watson.