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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Spieth set for second Masters title after courageous comeback

Tough Texan overcomes horror start

Jordan Spieth is eyeing up the Green Jacket yet again
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Story so far

The Masters leaderboard was tight at the halfway stage, with four players tied at the top, and congestion remained after another 18 holes. Several Augusta hopefuls are in with a chance of wearing the Green Jacket.

Sergio Garcia was the only member of the 36-hole pacesetting quartet to retain a share of the lead, the Spaniard carding a steady two-under-par 70 to move to six under par. Garcia, a general pre-tournament 40-1 shot, is a best-price 9-2 with a round to go.

Garcia was joined at the head of affairs by his Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose, who surged up the board with a five-under-par 67, a score nobody in the field could match. Rose, a general 25-1 on tournament-eve, is 3-1 to add Masters glory to his 2013 US Open title.

Rickie Fowler is alone in third place and a shot behind, the Californian grinding a round of 71 on a day when he was lacking his A-game, then there are three players tied for fourth another shot adrift. Jordan Spieth is the headline name of this trio.

Spieth's love affair with Augusta continued with a third-round 68 which has hauled him into Masters contention yet again. The Texan, who can boast Augusta form figures of 2-1-2, has bounced back strongly after making a quadruple-bogey nine at the 15th hole in round one. The ante-post 9-1 chance is biggest at 4-1 going into Sunday.

Adam Scott is only three shots behind and hunting a second Masters victory, while another former Augusta champion, Charl Schwartzel, is four shots off the lead. Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters are minus one and five behind, while there is loads of quality at level par. Can Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm or Paul Casey conjure a super-low final round and threaten the leaders?

Leaderboard

-6 Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia
-5 Rickie Fowler
-4 Jordan Spieth, Ryan Moore, Charley Hoffman
-3 Adam Scott
-2 Charl Schwartzel
-1 Lee Westwood, Thomas Pieters
Par Paul Casey, Soren Kjeldsen, Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, William McGirt

Best prices

3 J Rose, 4 J Spieth, 9-2 S Garcia, R Fowler, 16 R Moore, A Scott, 22 C Hoffman, 40 R McIlroy, C Schwartzel, 80 L Westwood, 100 T Pieters, 125 J Rahm, 150 P Casey, 250 bar

Today's advice

The Masters got off to an anti-climactic start with the withdrawal of world number one Dustin Johnson, but the event itself has been a captivating mixture of fantastic ball-striking and glorious putting on a difficult course.

The weather was much better at Augusta for round three, but there was more pace in the famous greens, so the lead increased only from four under par to six. Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott have been superb from tee to green to set up their title tilts, while Rickie Fowler's short-game class has kept him bang in contention.

Rose and Garcia have both hit 40 greens in regulation from 54, while Scott can boast 41. Fowler has hit only 31, but tops the putting stats and has been holing out with extreme confidence. In-running punters must decide whether to side with the players swinging with assurance or the dancefloor hot-hand. Drive for show, putt for dough?

Fowler's sizzling putter makes the 9-2 well worth considering, but this Masters suddenly got much tougher for the Major maiden in round three. At the halfway stage, Fowler was jostling with other Major maidens, but Rose, Jordan Spieth and Scott have arrived on the scene. Will tension upset Fowler's putting stroke now proven Major champions have joined the battle?

Fowler is in a final-round twoball with his friend Spieth, a two-time Major champion who is in Masters contention for a fourth consecutive year. Spieth's greater experience of being in the final groups at Majors may prove decisive.

Spieth has finished in the top four in five of the last eight Majors (and six of the last 12). Much mention will be made of the way he blew a five-shot back-nine lead in last year's Masters and endured a quadruple-bogey at the 12th, but the evidence of the first three days is that Spieth is rising to the challenge.

Spieth has already overcome one enormous mental hurdle this week. He jotted a quadruple-bogey nine on his card in round one after making a mess of the 15th hole, drifted to 28-1 and finished round one ten shots behind. It left him with no margin for error, but the tough Texan has fought back courageously to get within two of the lead. Spieth can already be proud of himself and approaches round four in a great frame of mind.

The changing track conditions are helping Spieth, too. Augusta is drying out, placing more emphasis on touch, feel and course-management. Expect him to pump his ball long and left on the 12th, and probably make a safe bogey, but serene passage on the rest of the course can deliver a second Masters title.

Spieth had not been impressing on the US Tour since winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in the middle of February, and he was particularly poor in missing the Houston Open cut last week. The last two days of the Masters have shown Houston was a red herring, though, and punters who kept faith with the Augusta standing-dish and got aboard at 9-1 on tournament-eve can be on good terms with themselves.

It is much easier to make a case for Spieth at 4-1 now than at 9-1 before the off. For starters, there is no Dustin Johnson to worry about, and the shape of the leaderboard looks made for jaunty Jordan to assert himself.

The scary thing for Spieth's rivals is, he has not holed many putts this week. His long-game has been in decent order to compensate. The floodgates usually open on the greens at some stage for this flat-stick master. To put things bluntly, there are only two Major champions in the top six (Spieth and Rose). One usually putts very well, one usually putts very badly.

Rose is unlikely to fall away given his tee-to-green ability, but the Englishman is unlikely to pull away either. And it is difficult to see Garcia, desperate to land a long overdue Major title but with a putting stroke that is unconvincing at the best of times, racing clear at the top either.

Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman have a serious mission on their hands to overcome so many world-class operators around them on the board, while a three-shot deficit is probably too much for Scott given how many of his putts stay above ground.

Charl Schwartzel and Thomas Pieters may have super-low final rounds in them to get into the thick of things, but the most likely scenario appears to be defending champion Danny Willett returning the favour to Spieth from 12 months ago, presenting the Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin.

Final-round twoball punters are pointed towards Justin Thomas (5.25pm UK and Ireland time), who tops the greens in regulation stats this week and hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation in round three.
Thomas has failed to hole many putts, but has plotted his way along Augusta like a seasoned veteran. His playing partner Jason Day may lose focus now his winning chance has gone and 11-8 looks a big price about the outsider.

High-rollers will be eyeing up the 2-5 about recent Arnold Palmer Invitational champion Marc Leishman defeating 58-year-old Larry Mize (3.15pm). Leishman lost his way in the closing stages of round three, but the Australian is different gravy to veteran Mize and is a useful addition to sporting Sunday accumulators.
The action resumes at 3.15pm, with the final twoball of Rose and Garcia on the tee at 7.45pm. A champion will be crowned as midnight approaches.

Outright recommendation
J Spieth
3pts 4-1 Betfair, Power, Sky Bet

Twoball recommendations
J Thomas
3pts 11-8 BoyleSports

M Leishman
3pts 2-5 BoyleSports, Hills, Sky Bet

Spieth can already be proud of himself and approaches round four in a great frame of mind
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