The 3rd round at any Masters is always a rollicking adventure and the 2020 version is already sizing up to be one of the most anticipated in recent years. A total of 13 players are within two shots of the joint lead held by the likes of world number-one-ranked Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Cameron Smith, Abraham Ancer and world-number two Jon Rahm.
Such headliners as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Brook Koepka are all at five-under-par through 36 holes and each can certainly make a push to the top of the leaderboard but they will clearly have to demonstrate a convincing “moving day” to do so.
Scoring conditions were most receptive the first two rounds as an extended morning thunderstorm during Thursday’s opening round provided receptive conditions in concert with accessible pin locations.
Will the tournament committee opt to be more stringent with the location of the holes for Saturday’s 3rd round? That answer remains to be seen. The absence of rain for the balance of the event will also mean quickly drying conditions courtesy of the sub-air system Augusta National installed several years ago.
No one word aligns more succinctly about the essence of “moving day” than momentum. The key for many rests on what is likely the most stressful of shots that any high handicap golfer can easily relate to — the opening tee shot.
Augusta National’s 1st hole has been considerably strengthened over the last few years. The tee has been extended and the right fairway bunker pushed further down the fairway and deepened. In addition, the club saw fit to place a series of pesky pine trees angling in from the left side. The longer the tee shot the greater the necessity to find the narrowing landing area. The approach is also a testing chore as the player must land his ball in front of the pin to avoid the pain of a momentum stealer three-putt.
Players able to secure no worse than a par on the 1st can then pivot into high gear with the par-5 2nd. The downhill hole provides a launching pad for the longest of hitters and the possibility of birdie, and even eagle, is not far-fetched.
In 1975, during Saturday’s 3rd round, Johnny Miller created a major stir setting the still record for the front nine in scoring 30. The Californian would finish the round with a 65 and then back that up with a 66 during the final round. His efforts were nearly rewarded with a green jacket but a missed putt on the final green provided the needed distance for winner Jack Nicklaus to claim his then record 5th green jacket. Miller’s 131 total for the final 36 holes remains the lowest score.
Those chasing the five tied leaders will need to be on all cylinders to make their presence known. For the trio of Woods, Mickelson and Koepka the essence of “moving day” will be critical. Coming from behind is no small feat and is only more complicated by the sheer number of golfers — 16 in total — to climb over. Woods and Mickelson having each won multiple Masters titles are very much aware of what “moving day” means. Four-time major winner Koepka, hampered by injuries of late, knows full well he can reassert himself as the sport’s most clutch player at the biggest of events with a superb closing 36 holes.
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In the second to last group will be the two top ranked players in the world — Johnson and Rahm. The desire to possess the green jacket is equally strong for both — but likely a bit more so for DJ. He finished in a tie for 2nd last year and after finishing the 2020 season as the player-of-the-year the 36-year-old is positioned to win his second major — the first coming in 2016 at the U.S. Open. Johnson has clearly demonstrated sustained talent throughout his career but his overall major win count is the remaining missing ingredient.
Rahm wishes to be the next in line of Spanish players who have won the Masters. The 26-year-old has worked on his mercurial temperament and securing his first major title could well prove to be the catalyst for others to follow.
There are also fascinating storylines few may notice at this point. No Asian golfer has ever won the Masters. Three — C.T. Pan, Hideki Matsuyama and Sungjae Im — are just one shot behind.
What a finish for the Aussie. 🇦🇺— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 13, 2020
Cameron Smith is tied for the lead at the Masters. pic.twitter.com/AbrlwS9XE0
Three Englishmen are also in the hunt just two shots behind — Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Danny Willet. Rose and Willet have both won the event previously and Fleetwood’s resurgent game is now rounding into form — capable in joining the other two as a Masters champion..
Just as interesting is one of the co-leaders — Abraham Ancer. The 29-year-old hails from Mexico and should he win he would be the first from his country to do so.
Moving day at Augusta is akin to the rough and tumble chariot rides from the days of the Romans. Plenty of twists and turns — few predictions ever set-in stone. What is clear is that those either in the lead or near to it will enter Sunday’s final round in a far better position to snare golf’s most prize — the celebrated green jacket.