Watson, Spieth begin final-round Masters drama

Augusta: US prodigy Jordan Spieth and 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson teed off in Sunday`s final pairing at the 78th Masters as tension built for a back-nine showdown at Augusta National.

Spieth, the 54-hole co-leader with fellow American Watson on five-under par 211, looked to become the youngest Masters winner at age 20 and the first tournament newcomer to capture a green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Spain`s Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, and Fred Couples, 54, were each within reach of becoming not only the oldest Masters champion but the oldest champion in major golf history, surpassing the age mark of 48 by Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship.

Jonas Blixt, like Spieth, could win the Masters in his first try and could also be the first Swedish man to claim a major crown as well as Europe`s first Masters winner since Spain`s Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.

Americans Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler quietly had themselves in contention for the anticipated back-nine leaders` showdown with Amen Corner, the 11th, 12th and 13th holes where many a championship dream has disappeared into the depths 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 after going 63 majors without a win, the longest drought among active players.

Westwood, 40, was the 2010 Masters and 2010 British Open runner-up and third in six other majors.

Couples made a birdie-birdie start and Fowler opened with a birdie while Jimenez began with a bogey. Pre-Masters favorite Rory McIlroy birdied the last three holes on the front nine to reach one over.

Germany`s 54-year-old Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters winner, had two birdies and an eagle in the first five holes and made the turn at level par, five adrift of the lead.

The winner takes home $1.62 million from $9 million in prize money, up from a $1.44 million top prize and $8.1 million purse last year. This year`s runner-up prize is $972,000.

Two bits of trivia hinted at amazing feats about to unfold.

It was back in 1930 that US amateur legend Bobby Jones retired and found the land where Augusta National 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 at age 46, still the oldest winning effort at Augusta.

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 lightning-fast greens.

Nicklaus became the youngest Masters champion in 1963, to be replaced 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, perhaps a date with destiny that heralds a new hero to 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 back.

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 was eight strokes by Jack Burke in 1956.

Of the 13 players who began the final round below par, there were no multiple major winners. Past major champions in that group include Watson from the 2012 Masters, Jim Furyk from the 2003 US Open, England`s Justin Rose from last year`s US Open and Couples from the 1992 Masters.

There have been 15 first-time major winners in the past 19 majors and 19 different winners in the prior 21 majors, only McIlroy and Phil Mickelson winning twice in that span.