Before his third round at Augusta National, Bubba Watson had not three-putted in 291 competitive holes. It was an astounding stretch, and the longest on the PGA Tour by a mile. But sitting on a multi-shot lead can quickly change things. Two three-putts and several more shaky strokes later, Bubba's three-shot advantage was gone and the entire field is back in it heading into Sunday.
Bubba was flawless through two days at Augusta, but he promptly opened the third round with a sloppy bogey and the first signs of trouble crept up. The 2012 green jacket winner can overwhelm a course, taking aim at the par-5s and rolling in eagles and birdies, which he did throughout the first two rounds. On Saturday, he quickly got back the dropped shot from the first, and more, with a steady and easy eagle putt at the second. He was back to 8-under and the momentary worries from No. 1 were assuaged.
That eagle, however, was just the fleeting relief from a day-long grind of desperately trying to hold on to the lead. The first nine, which many consider the tougher side at Augusta, brutalized many of the leaders on Saturday, particularly at the par-3s. The fourth hole was playing as the toughest on the course for most of the day, and Bubba gave 'em back not only at the 4th, but also the 6th and the 7th. Just like that, he was back to 5-under and the tournament was wide open again.
Despite those slip-ups, Watson held solo first almost the entire day. There was a moment when Matt Kuchar, Thomas Bjorn, and Jonas Blixt all matched him at 5-under but Bubba quickly jumped back in front with some wizardry at No. 10. That's been a very good hole to Bubba in his Masters career, and he bombed a fade down the center of the fairway, setting up a nice fade approach that he nearly holed-out. A tap-in birdie pushed him back in front by a shot.
That shot at No. 10 would be his last birdie of the day, however, as Bubba leaked oil all over a second nine that was vulnerable and receptive to red numbers. The issues mostly came with the putter, as Watson stayed in play with consistent work on the long game. A perfect tee shot at the par-3 12th hole gave him a good look at birdie, but the putting stroke abandoned him. The moderate putt was left a good couple feet short. At the 13th, he was on in two with a reasonable run at eagle. Again, he left it well short and was unable to even get in the hole for birdie -- a horrible three-putt and disappointing par that continued to leave it open for the rest of the field.
While those two missed putts at Amen Corner threw away shots and left it open, the rest of the field wasn't exactly applying pressure ahead of him. No one else was making a streak on the back nine, except for Jordan Spieth who also held on and got into the house at 5-under, his third straight day under par in his rookie appearance.
Bubba's blown chance at the par-5 13th was one thing, but surely he'd get one at the 15th, the easiest scoring hole on the course. Nope. Watson put his ball well over the green and again made a disappointing par to stay at 6-under.
At the 16th, Bubba left his tee shot in one of the tougher spots to get at the back right pin location. After coming on with a delicate chip, he had a short little bender to stay ahead by one. But again, he was tentative with the stroke and didn't get enough juice on it, the ball dying on the low side:
And with that, the lead, tenuous all day, was officially gone for good. Bubba would reverse the trend a bit on his last two holes, making two moderate-length saving putts to at least hold onto a share of the lead with Spieth.
We knew it would be tough for Bubba to stay as perfect as he'd been through the first two days, but this 2-over 74 was littered with signs of trouble for Sunday. With Tiger and Phil gone, the final round pairing with Spieth will be as good as it gets on Sunday at Augusta National.