AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 12 (Reuters) - Jordan Spieth may be just 20 but he is rated as such an extraordinary talent by his peers that no one would be surprised if he eclipsed Tiger Woods on Sunday by becoming the youngest Masters champion.
Spieth belied his tender age by shrugging off what he described as “crazy fast greens” to shoot a two-under-par 70 in Saturday’s penultimate round at Augusta National to join fellow American Bubba Watson in a share of the lead on 211, five under.
Watson, former winner Fred Couples and world number seven Matt Kuchar all believe the debutant has what it takes to land the coveted green jacket and surpass Woods, who was 21 when he picked up the first of his four Masters crowns in 1997.
”He’s young, nerves are no big deal to him,“ 2012 champion Watson told reporters. ”He’s a great player and a guy like that, he obviously has no fear.
“He’s like a veteran, he started out at 15, I think, at tournaments like the Byron Nelson Classic and stuff. He’s special...and he’s such a great putter,” said left-hander Watson.
“Tomorrow is going to be a really, really hard day to try to win this but he’s well qualified to do it.”
Watson’s Ryder Cup team mate Matt Kuchar, who registered a third-round 68 to lie one stroke off the pace on 212, referred to Spieth as “pretty amazing”.
“You see the likes of Fred Couples doing well and you chalk it up to a guy with a lot of experience playing this golf course,” said Kuchar.
“So it’s even more amazing to see what a guy like Jordan Spieth is doing. It’s pretty amazing for a first timer.”
At the other end of the scale, veteran Couples retains outside hopes of becoming the oldest major winner of all time at the age of 54.
The 1992 Masters champion also believes Spieth is an outstanding young talent.
“He’s a qualified player at the age of 20,” said Couples after carding a third-round 73 for a one-under aggregate of 215.
“When you’re that kind of a player you can play well anywhere. He hits the ball long and high but for a 20-year-old he’s pretty savvy.”
Spieth, who qualified for the Masters by winning his maiden PGA Tour title at the John Deere Classic in Illinois in July, was thankful for some advice he had received from 18-times major winner Jack Nicklaus and double Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.
”Mr Crenshaw was very helpful at a dinner here on Wednesday,“ said the youngster. ”I had a little talk with Mr Nicklaus and he helped me out too.
“Those guys are pretty good guys to learn something about the golf course from. I don’t really want to get into specifics about what they said but yeah, they helped with certain things.”
Speith explained the lightning-quick greens and tricky pin placements made conditions particularly tough on Saturday.
”We realised early on how difficult this golf course was going to play today,“ he said after mixing four birdies with two bogeys. ”There were front pins that you really couldn’t stay below.
”It was almost like putting on rolling gravel. It was almost like it was picking up speed even as it went by the hole.
“It was crazy, crazy fast out there. I’ve never putted on greens like this before.”
Spieth will tee off at 2.40 p.m. local (1840 GMT) in the final round on Sunday and plans to offer due deference to his 35-year-old playing partner by referring to him as Mr Watson.
“That’ll be fine when I‘m hitting the ball past him,” laughed the big-hitting Watson.
“I’ve played with him a couple of times before and I love the kid. He’s a good guy.” (Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)