Constants and traditions are appreciated at Augusta National Golf Club.
The grass is mowed in formation. The smiling staff rarely changes. Everything is done with precision and purity.
Jordan Spieth on top of the leaderboard is becoming one of those constants, one of those traditions.
But even he was barely constant Saturday.
On the traditional “moving day” that saw the course conditions continue to take its toll on a leaderboard that looked like a vertical seesaw, Spieth never relinquished the outright lead, firing a 1-over 73 and holding a one-shot lead entering Sunday’s final round.
His round was not without its share of mishaps, however, including playing the final two holes in 3-over, but Spieth managed his way to the top of the leaderboard for the seventh consecutive Masters round, setting a new tournament record.
“I thought we did a great job, minus the last two holes. … I mean honestly, I think it will be tough to put it behind me,” Spieth said Saturday. “It’s not going to fun for a little while, and hopefully I just sleep it off and it’s fine (Sunday). I imagine that will be the case.”
After a wire-to-wire win at Augusta National in 2015, he will repeat the feat if he finds his way into the green jacket Sunday. But it will be a different test than a year ago, when he had a four-shot lead after 54 holes. Ten players sit within four shots of the lead this year.
“With very little wind (Sunday), someone gets on a run and shoots 6- or 7-under, you know, I’m going to have to shoot a significant under-par round in order to win this tournament, when I could have played a different style of golf like I did on Sunday last year,” Spieth said.
Saturday was supposed to be a prize fight between Spieth and Rory McIlroy, but only Spieth threw any punches. McIlroy failed to make a single birdie, finishing with a 5-over 77 and five strokes behind Spieth entering Sunday’s play.
Who did throw some punches was in some ways more surprising.
Bernhard Langer, 58, carded a 2-under 70 and sits in a tie for third, two shots behind Spieth entering Sunday. Langer won in the Masters in 1985 and again in 1993, three months before the 22-year-old Spieth was born.
“I believe I can (win),” Langer said Saturday, noting that Jason Day was outdriving him by 40 or 50 yards for most of the round. “We’re not playing tennis or soccer or football where it all comes down to speed and strength. Golf is a lot more about knowing yourself and technique. Just thinking your way around the golf course and then execution.”
Langer has also had recent success, both in wins on the Champions Tour, as well as top-25 finishes in the 2013 and 2014 Masters.
“I think it’s incredible, but I think it’s hard to say that what he’s doing is surprising,” Spieth said of Langer. “But from my perspective, you can’t think of it as an amazing story or this is his age. He’s just another competitor who’s fully capable of shooing a really solid round and winning this tournament again.”
It’s anyone’s tournament, but they’ll have to beat reigning champion Spieth — the constant.