Final Masters drama prepared to unfold

AFP| Updated: Apr 13, 2014, 19:38 PM IST

Augusta: A dramatic final-round showdown on one of golf`s grandest stages was set Sunday as the 78th Masters neared a historic finish replete with omens of something magical in the offing.

Jordan Spieth, a 54-hole co-leader with fellow American Bubba Watson on five-under par 211, looked to become the youngest Masters winner at age 20 as he joined the 2012 Masters winner in the final pairing at Augusta National.

Spain`s Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, and Fred Couples, 54, were within reach of becoming not only the oldest Masters champions but the oldest champions in major golf history.

Sweden`s Jonas Blixt, like Spieth, looked to become the first first-time Masters player to win the green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and only the fourth rookie champion ever, just the second since the second Masters in 1935.

Blixt, one stroke off the pace in the penultimate group, also sought to be the first man from the homeland of women`s legend Annika Sorenstam to claim a major crown.

Americans Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler quietly had themselves in contention for the anticipated back-nine leaders` showdown with Amen Corner, where many a championship dream has disappeared into the bottom of Rae`s Creek.

And England`s Lee Westwood, teased so often in quest of a major crown, lurked in a share of seventh on 214 with another chance to end a run through 63 majors without a win, the longest drought among active players.

A building tension and the sense that something extra might be on display over the last 18 holes under the Georgia pines was bolstered by two bits of trivia that hinted at amazing feats about to unfold.

It was back in 1930 that US amateur legend Bobby Jones retired and found the tract of land where Augusta National now stands.

It was 28 years later, in 1958, that icon Arnold Palmer won his first major title at the Masters. And 28 years after that, Jack Nicklaus won the last of his record 18 major titles at the 1986 Masters, becoming Augusta National`s oldest champion at age 46 to claim a record sixth green jacket.

And now it`s 28 years later once again.

But that`s not even the only wild symmetry that evokes ideas of golf gods at work over the undulating, lightning-fast greens at Augusta National.

Nicklaus became the youngest Masters champion in 1963, to be replaced in that role by the late Spanish superstar Seve Ballesteros some 17 years later in 1980.

In 1997, 17 years after that, it was Tiger Woods who became the youngest Masters winner ever.

And now it`s 17 years later again with Spieth poised to nudge under Woods`s youth age mark by seven months and perhaps seize a date with destiny that heralds a hero who might one day join the pantheon of golf`s greatest players.

World number one Woods, absent after surgery to ease a pinched nerve, looks to keep his top ranking after the Masters with those able to overtake him -- defending champion Adam Scott, his fellow Australian Jason Day and Sweden`s Henrik Stenson -- floundering well off the pace.

Scott must finish no worse than a two-way tie for third, Stenson needs at least a two-way share of second and Day must win to have a chance this week at dethroning 14-time major winner Woods, whose timetable to resume pursuit of Nicklaus` all-time record major win total is uncertain.

The greatest last-day comeback to win in Masters history is eight strokes by Jack Burke in 1956.