After the rain delay, Hideki Matsuyama, the 2011 Masters Low Amateur, took advantage of conditions to seize the lead from Justin Rose.
On an overcast Saturday with thunderstorms looming in the forecast at Augusta National, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson climbed up the leaderboard, posting a 69, tying Francesco Molinari for the best round amongst the early starters. Mickelson recorded three birdies on the front with a birdie on the second nine. His only blemish was on a bogey on the par 4 -7th hole.
Many of the early starters found Augusta National much more difficult. Case in point was 40-year-old Adam Scott, who carded five bogeys, a double bogey on the 7th hole, and a triple bogey 8 on par 5, 15th hole. His 79 left him at +10, last among the 54 players who made the cut. Also recording an 8 on the 15th was Jim Herman, who finished with a 76 and +6 for the tournament. Brendan Todd fell 24 spots after his round of 76, while Michael Thompson and Abraham Ancer also fell way back after rounds of 75.
Bryson DeChambeau started the day six behind the overnight leader, Justin Rose. DeChambeau was looking to make a move up the leaderboard on Saturday, and with consecutive pars on his first three holes, he appeared to be on the right track. However, double bogeys on the 4th and 12th holes punctuated a tough round for DeChambeau as he carded a round of 75, dropping him out of contention at +2 for the event. Collin Morikawa experienced a similar fate after going three over in a two hole stretch to start the second nine. He enters the final round at +1 over.
At the start of the day, Cameron Champ was also in a great position to make a run at the lead, sitting just three shots back. But after a one-under start over the first three holes, the wheels came off for Champ as he proceeded to go +6 over the next ten holes including a double-bogey on 13. He ended the day with a score of 77 falling to +1 after three rounds.
Vaulting to the top of the leaderboard on moving day was Hideki Matsuyama. After play was delayed due to thunderstorms, the course softened considerably and Matsuyama took full advantage. With his strong iron game, he came out after the restart firing at the flags, recording birdies at holes 11 and 12, followed by pars at the 13th and 14th. An eagle on the par 5 – 15th highlighted a stretch of play in which he went four-under par on holes 15 thru 17, to close out his round. Matsuyama entered the clubhouse with a round of 65 and enters Sunday as the leader at –11 for a four-shot lead.
A four-way logjam at –7 under included Mark Leishman, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, and second-round leader Justin Rose. Leishman shot a round of 70 that included four birdies and two bogeys. The highlight of Schauffele’s four-under par round was his eagle on the par 5, 15th hole. Zalatoris shot an up-and-down round of 71, consisting of four birdies and three bogeys. Overnight leader Justin Rose started the day with two birdies, but quickly gave it back on holes four and five. He managed several impressive par saves to post an even par score of 72, including a nervy par putt on 18 to keep him within sight of the leader.
The shot of the day came from 29-year-old Canadian Corey Conners, who aced the par 3, sixth hole. In addition to the hole in one, Conners had five birdies with a score of 68. Conners enters the final round in sixth place at –6 under. The 2015 champion, Jordan Spieth, cannot be ruled out after a round of 72 kept him within six shots of the lead. Justin Thomas was in solid position at the midway point of his round, but a triple bogey eight on the par 5, 13th hole along with four other bogeys on the day left him ten shots behind Matsuyama as the enter Sunday.
With five players within 5 shots of the leader, and with Spieth, one of the best at Augusta National, 6 shots back of Matsuyama, Sunday should bring its characteristic “fireworks” of terrific golf shots, near misses, and plenty of “what could have been”. Or as Jack Nicklaus has often said, the Masters really doesn’t get underway until the second nine on Sunday.