Hello friends, it’s time for our last stroll around Augusta National in 2021.
Pardon the interruption
We’d be lying if we said Saturday was the most exciting day of the Masters we can remember. A rain delay halfway through the third round slowed down both the drama and the turf. Still, there are plenty of potentially juicy storylines going into Sunday, and we’re hoping for an exciting finale. Masters Leaderboard
Some players liked the rain stoppage more than others. No one appeared to benefit more from it than Hideki Matsuyama, who made just one birdie in his first 10 holes. After waiting out the storm in his car, Matsuyama blitzed the softened back nine in 31 strokes, changing the complexion of the tournament. His surge leaves him four shots clear of Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose, and Will Zalatoris, with only Corey Conners also within five shots of the lead.
If he closes the door tomorrow, we’ll dive more into Hideki’s history in major championships in Monday’s newsletter. But suffice it to say that this is Matsuyama’s first 54-hole lead in a major championship, he hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since 2017, and his putter is famously balky. On the other hand, his ball-striking is almost always unbelievable, and it has been especially so this week. And with a four-shot lead, Hideki doesn’t necessarily need his putter to turn into a fireball on Sunday. Is it finally his time?
Contenders and coulda-beens
Saturday’s final pairing of Justin Rose and Will Zalatoris never found much mojo in the third round. Neither played poorly—72 for Rose and 71 for Zalatoris—but the pair just couldn’t hang with Hideki. That said, both have as good a shot at the green jacket as anyone other than Matsuyama tomorrow.
Before the rain fell on Saturday, Corey Conners was absolutely striping it. From five shots back, Conners made three birdies and a hole-in-one on the front nine to get within one of the lead. He ended up with a third-round 68 and will start Sunday five shots behind Hideki.
Jordan Spieth had an up-and-down Saturday. Definitely an “up”: this up-and-down from no man’s land on No. 8. But on the whole Spieth struggled to gain momentum. He had his career-worst putting performance at Augusta National, losing nearly 2.5 shots on the greens. In the end, the 2015 Masters champion shot an even-par 72, and he sits six shots off the pace.
One of the favorites to make a run at the lead entering the day, Justin Thomas appeared on track after going two under through three holes. But then things started moving quickly. On the par-5 13th hole, Thomas dumped a wedge into the tributary and carded a triple bogey. He’s now T-13 through 54 holes and, unless he smashes the course record tomorrow, out of contention.
Like Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson is not a threat to win (E, T-21). Unlike Thomas, Mickelson is exceeding expectations. He pieced together a nice 69 this morning and may be able to climb into the top 10 on Sunday.
After an excellent 67 on Friday that actually could have been a few shots lower, Bryson DeChambeau seemed befuddled by Augusta National once again on Saturday. He shot a 75 to drop to T-43.
Billy Horschel had himself a morning! And we’re not talking about his play, which was unremarkable (+1 on the day). Followed by the Featured Group cameras, Horschel could be heard loudly complaining after nearly every poor shot and bad break. It was… well, annoying. So when he slipped and fell on his butt by the 13th green, we may have cracked a smile. (After seeing that he was unhurt, of course. Of course!) Credit to Mr. Ho for tweeting out the video himself afterwards.
Henrik Stenson missed all three major-championship cuts in 2020, missed eight of his last 11 cuts, and qualified for the 2021 Masters only via his final year of exemption from his 2016 Open victory. A top-12 finish this week, however, would earn him a ticket back next year. He’s currently T-13.
Toward the end of today’s telecast, CBS analyst Nick Faldo wondered aloud whether Hideki Matsuyama would become “the first Japanese golfer to win a major.” Fortunately, right after an ensuing ad break, lead announcer Jim Nantz chimed in with a correction: Japan’s Hisako Higuchi won the LPGA Championship in 1977, and Hinako “Smiling Cinderella” Shibuno won the Women’s British Open just two years ago. It’s good to remember these things!
Patrick Reed has made seven birdies in his past eight attempts on No. 16!
Bryson DeChambeau (+2, T-38) hit his drive on No. 13 “so far into Narnia.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Also, what are his thoughts on The Screwtape Letters?
A serious note: whenever there are shots of the (limited) crowd at Augusta National, we’re seeing instances of lazy mask use. Perhaps enforcing that rule, as opposed to the cell-phone prohibition, should be the Pinkertons’ main area of emphasis right now.
The Latest from The Fried Egg
Shotgun Start: Hideki’s tour de force, Billy Ho’s masterpiece, and contender/pretender for Sunday
A lively virtual Bixby House results in this punch-drunk Masters table-setter for Sunday. Andy and Brendan react to that outrageous inward 30 from Hideki Matsuyama, but not without first pondering a preposterous rules hypothetical related to JT. Then they run through the leaderboard with a manichean contender/pretender judgment for each player. Two of the four players at 7-under are dubbed pretenders, while the head and the heart battle for a Spieth assessment six shots back. Jose Maria’s valiant fight is praised. Billy Ho’s absolutely ridiculous circus act is re-told, with a full notebook of details on the hole-by-hole indignities (pardon our language but it’s not ours, it’s his). They close with their picks to win and some rambling about a section of the English language that befuddles Andy. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
Hideki Matsuyama is one of the best tee-to-green players in the world in spite of a notoriously suspect flatstick. A Fried Egg putter cover could be his key to consistency tomorrow. Hideki, give us a call!