Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson tied for lead after third round at the Masters

Give a good listen to Bubba Watson, to what he says and how he says it. Then do the same with Jordan Spieth. Now try to pick out who is the older, more accomplished golfer.

Watson could say anything at any time, a trait that is reflected in his golf, everything laced with the nonchalance of youth. Spieth is measured in his tone and manner, a trustee, a CEO. “I haven’t played video games in years,” he said Saturday night. Yet Watson is 35, a husband and father. Spieth is 20, a prodigy playing the Masters for the first time. Go figure.

They are, too, your final pairing for Sunday’s final round. On Saturday, Watson spent much of his day pointing in all directions because who knows where on God’s green earth his ball might be going? Spieth delivered a flat-line performance any peer would envy, executed mentally and physically like a veteran. In three Masters rounds, he has acted as a metronome, an opening 71 followed by two 70s that leave him at 5-under par, tied with Watson, bidding to become the youngest Masters champion ever, the youngest major champion in 92 years.

“I’m 20, and this is my first Masters,” Spieth said. “This is a tournament I’ve always dreamt about.”

Last week, in footie pajamas, clutching a teddy bear? Maybe not. But it is clear that even though no Masters rookie has won the event since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, Spieth just might have the demeanor to do so. In the middle of fairways, he holds solo conversations — not to calm himself down but to fire himself up. He has overhauled his regular, PGA Tour approach — see pin, hit at it — for this week, playing conservatively when that’s what Augusta National demands, gazing at the flagsticks and then shielding his eyes.

“As far as being patient shot-to-shot,” Spieth said, “I think I’ve done the best that I’ve ever [done] with my mental game.”

But he has tried to build a base upon which to lean, too, seeking the advice of elders — who could include, in his case, 24-year-oldRory McIlroy, his playing partner the first two days. Rather, the wisdom comes from a conversation with Jack Nicklaus on Wednesday night, another with Ben Crenshaw on Monday, the knowledge Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, gleaned from hours of conversation with Crenshaw’s longtime Augusta caddie, Carl Jackson.

“Pretty good guys to learn something about the golf course from,” Spieth said.

Watson, of course, already has a green jacket, won in 2012 with the most Bubba shot of them all, a boomerang of a hook from the woods at No. 10 to beat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff.

But Watson did not lead that tournament alone until he won it. Friday night, when he held a three-shot advantage, was the first time he put head to pillow with all those thoughts swirling in his brain. He responded with an uneven round of 74 — enough to hold on to a share of that lead but also enough for much of the field to reel him back in.

“If somebody told me on Monday I’d have 74 and still be tied for the lead,” Watson said, “I’d have taken it all day long.”

Understandable. But Watson and Spieth must also understand that there are seven players within three shots of them. They include Matt Kuchar — an Augusta perennial, just like the azaleas — and Swedish rookie Jonas Blixt, each a shot back at 4 under. There are threats from players who badly want to win their first major (Rickie Fowler at 3 under, Lee Westwood at 2 under) and from players who have already won one (Jim Furyk at 2 under, Justin Rose a shot back of that).

“This is a position all of us hope to be in when we show up on Monday or Tuesday,” Kuchar said. “You hope that your game is ready. You hope that . . . you’ve got a chance in one of the last groups on Sunday.”

It just takes so much to get there. There were times Saturday when the Masters looked like a runaway. Watson eagled the par-5 second to get to 8 under, and his lead was four. There were times, too, when the Masters looked impossibly close. Just after 5 p.m., Kuchar made his third birdie in a row — this one at 15 — and there was a four-way tie for the lead, Kuchar, Watson and Blixt along with Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn.

Even as Watson made all manner of errors — failing to birdie either of the par 5s on the back nine, making bogey at the par-3 16th — he never fell out of the lead. And with Spieth in the clubhouse at 5 under, Watson scratched his way into that final group with a steely par-saving putt at 17 and an up-and-down par save at 18.

“If you’re going to get down when you’re still winning, then you’ve got issues,” Watson said. “And I do have issues, but . . . ”

The issues, now, include sleeping on that lead. On Saturday night, Spieth headed back to the rental house he shares with his parents and brother, Watson to the rental house he shares with his wife and son. Neither would turn on his phone. Neither would flip on his TV.

“I’m not nervous right now,” Spieth said. But he said so with Sunday still far off, a theory rather than a reality.

“He’s young,” Watson said. “Nerves are no big deal to him.”

In 1997, Tiger Woods won the Masters when he was 21, becoming the youngest to do so. On Sunday, Spieth — who was 3 at the time — will try to supplant him. To become the youngest major winner since a 20-year-old Gene Sarazen won the 1922 PGA Championship, he’ll have to beat back Watson and the others. More than that, he’ll have to act something other than his age.

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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