One month after holding the lead on Sunday at the Masters, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth is back in it at the game's "fifth major," The Players Championship. Spieth has played the first 54 holes at TPC Sawgrass without making a bogey, an astounding streak given all the water trouble and heightened penalties for inaccuracy at the Stadium Course. Dating back to the final round of the RBC Heritage, Spieth has now gone 69 holes on the PGA Tour without a bogey and he'll go to sleep on a share of the 54-hole lead with Martin Kaymer.
Spieth didn't light it up on Saturday and lost his swing at times on the back nine, but he always managed to recover and avoid dropping a shot. He opened the third round with 10 straight pars, missing a couple birdie chances on the front nine par-5s before finally rolling one in at the par-5 11th. That was his only red number of the day, but his playing partner wasn't running away with anything and those saves would get him to the lead by the end of his round.
He had a couple close calls on TPC Sawgrass' two iconic finishing holes but sneaked through unscathed. At the island 17th, Spieth dropped his tee shot juuuuust on the front of the green, taking aim at the front-left pin location. After it got safely onto the island, he made it quite apparent that he felt relieved to be dry:
His chipping up around the green, and then his putting from moderate to short distances, repeatedly saved him. After missing the fairway right at the 18th, which is usually the kind of jail that causes a bogey, Spieth had to punch out and get up-and-down to keep the streak alive. His chip ran just through the green, but again he poured in a save from a spot that was outside Kaymer's ball.
Even with all that work from Spieth, Kaymer is still right there with him at 12-under. The lanky German matched a course record with round of 63 on Thursday, and he will now make a bid to go wire-to-wire in his most significant moment since that Ryder Cup clinching putt two years ago. After getting to No. 1 in the world in 2011, Kaymer tinkered with his swing a bit, trying to learn to hit a better draw. That work resulted in a tumble down the world rankings, with the PGA Champion falling into obscurity and rarely factoring on either the PGA or Euro tours.
But Kaymer was always too talented to never be heard from again, and this week he has been almost flawless. The swing has been so smooth, and his work tee-to-green has been steady through the difficult Pete Dye design. He's also been able to save par from the sand and up around the green when he's needed it. The conditions and setup weren't yielding the same type of low rounds we'd seen most of the week, but Kaymer held on until a bogey at the last dropped him into a share of the lead.
Spieth and Kaymer are the clear favorites heading into the final 18, holding a multi-shot cushion. But right there chasing is Sergio Garcia, the 2008 champion here and last year's Sunday goat. This is obviously a course and event that suits Garcia well; he's always around making noise on the weekend, and that two-day back-and-forth with Tiger Woods last year was one of the more memorable weeks ever on the PGA Tour. With his track record here, Garcia should be in the hunt on Sunday. Let's just hope, for his sake, that if he's in it down the stretch he avoids a repeat from last year on the 17th:
Or the 18th:
The PGA Tour hasn't had a particularly strong season. Tiger Woods' absence is obviously a huge part of that, but in addition, the biggest names in the game have repeatedly stumbled and failed to close. Now, at their biggest event of the year, we'll get a Sunday show from the player many are hailing as the game's next American legend. Spieth couldn't keep up with Bubba at Augusta, but he's here one month later with another shot at a historic win. Just seeing if he can keep that bogey-free streak alive should be dramatic enough, but a win at the game's "fifth major" would be his biggest victory and would supercharge his nascent career. The Tour and the game need it right now.
Here's the leaderboard heading after 54 holes:
|Place||Player||Score||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3|
|T13||Bo Van Pelt||-5||71||70||70|
|T68||Brendon de Jonge||2||69||74||75|
|T68||Richard H. Lee||2||71||71||76|