Augusta Masters: Garcia, Pieters, Hoffman, Fowler share lead

Ross Houston
April 9, 2017

"Being in position going into Saturday here at the Masters is going to be special", Hoffman said.

- If we use history as our guide, only six players have a legitimate chance to win Sunday. Just his luck, the ball bounced softly off the bank and stayed up, and from there the Spaniard hit a tough chip to tap-in range to turn potential bogey into a birdie.

Spieth won the Masters two years ago and was runner-up last year after losing a five-shot lead on the back nine.

Hoffman lamented his "bad swing" on 16 but chose to emphasize the two "good birdie looks" he had on 17 and 18, although he made neither one. And when he surveyed the landscape, he's not sure any of that matters.

BIG CHARGES: The most capable making a huge run? Too much can happen around this place. "A one-shot lead starting the day doesn't mean much". "I think had I been two or three shots behind, I still would have felt that I was in great position going into (Sunday), which leads me to understand everybody's mindset behind me". Sergio Garcia knew the score when no one else did and had his first share of the lead in his 19th time playing Augusta National.

"I think it's a really good thing", said Fowler, who birdied all four par 5s in the third round and is at 5-under 211.

"I don't even know how much it would mean to be able to join both of my idols as a Masters victor", he said.

At least he gave himself some positive vibes to sleep on with a tricky two-putt par save from 60 feet at the 18th hole, recovering from an approach shot that dropped on the fringe about pin high but caught a little ridge, sending it tumbling back down to the front tier of the green. "It's a cool thing about Augusta, very old school with the non-electronic leaderboards out there", Fowler said. He also pulled off a shot from the pine straw on the 13th by telling his caddie, "What would Arnie do?" Five-under won the green jacket previous year. Then he chipped up and three-putted to end up taking the same number of strokes as the number of innings in a baseball game. He almost holed a wedge from the fairway on the 15th for another birdie and wound up with a 68.

The Perth 20-year-old's only competition for the Masters silver medal is American amateur Stewart Hagestad, who is four over for the week and 12 holes into the round. He went wire-to-wire to win in 2015.

As McIlroy gained momentum on the back nine, Shane Lowry lost some of his with bogeys on 15 and 16, before two pars left him signing for a level-par 72 alongside McIlroy. "I know that; if I am able to jump out into the lead, I know that you have to keep the gas pedal down and pretend you're not".

Also challenging were Australian Adam Scott, the 2013 victor, at three under, with 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa another shot back. After rallying from a four-hole deficit with five holes remaining to win the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, he kept up his strong play at Augusta National with a 3-over 147 that easily sent him through to the final two rounds.

Fowler finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014 but was sharing an overnight lead in one for the first time, while Hoffman was ninth at Augusta in 2015 after lying second at halfway.

"Him and [Jose Maria] Olazabal, they were both my big idols growing up", said Garcia, considered perhaps the best player never to have won a golf major.

Justin Rose. Sergio Garcia.

What a cool nod to the King, Arnold Palmer, who passed away last September and has been weighing heavy on the minds of many this week at Augusta National.

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