Watson, Spieth face tension in final Masters duo
Jordan Spieth of the US acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the third round of the 78th Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia - by Timothy A. Clary
Jordan Spieth, the 54-hole co-leader with 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson on five-under par 211, looked to become the youngest Masters winner at age 20 as the Americans prepared to tee off in the final pairing.
Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, and Fred Couples, 54, were each within reach of becoming not only the oldest Masters champion but the oldest champion in major golf history, surpassing the age mark of 48 by Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship.
Sweden's Jonas Blixt, like Spieth, looked to become the first first-time Masters player to win the green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and only the fourth rookie champion ever.
Blixt, one stroke off the pace in the penultimate group, also sought to be the first man from the homeland of women's legend Annika Sorenstam to claim a major crown.
Americans Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler quietly had themselves in contention for the anticipated back-nine leaders' showdown with Amen Corner, where many a championship dream has disappeared into the depths of Rae's Creek.
And England's Lee Westwood, teased so often in quest of a major crown, lurked in a share of seventh on 214 with another chance after going 63 majors without a win, the longest drought among active players.
Westwood, 40, was the 2010 Masters and 2010 British Open runner-up and third in six other majors.
The winner takes home $1.62 million from $9 million in prize money, up from a $1.44 million top prize and $8.1 million purse last year. This year's runner-up prize is $972,000.
Among the early starters in the final round, two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, a 56-year-old German, had an eagle and two birdies in the first five holes and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South African started with back-to-back birdies, a signal that early charges were available at Augusta National.
Building tension and the sense that something extra might be on display over the last 18 holes under the Georgia pines was bolstered by two bits of trivia that hinted at amazing feats about to unfold.
It was back in 1930 that US amateur legend Bobby Jones retired and found the land where Augusta National stands.
It was 28 years later, in 1958, that icon Arnold Palmer won his first major title at the Masters. And 28 years after that, Jack Nicklaus won the last of his record 18 major titles at the 1986 Masters, becoming Augusta National's oldest champion at age 46 to claim a record sixth green jacket.
And now it's 28 years later once again.
But that's not even the only wild symmetry that evokes ideas of golf gods at work over the undulating, lightning-fast greens at Augusta National.
Nicklaus became the youngest Masters champion in 1963, to be replaced in that role by the late Spanish superstar Seve Ballesteros some 17 years later in 1980.
In 1997, 17 years after that, it was Tiger Woods who became the youngest Masters winner ever.
And now it's 17 years later again with Spieth poised to nudge under Woods's youth age mark by seven months, perhaps a date with destiny that heralds a new hero to join the pantheon of golf's greatest players.
World number one Woods, absent after surgery to ease a pinched nerve, looks to keep his top ranking after the Masters with those able to overtake him -- defending champion Adam Scott, his fellow Australian Jason Day and Sweden's Henrik Stenson -- floundering well back.
Scott must finish no worse than a two-way tie for third, Stenson needs at least a two-way share of second and Day must win to have a chance this week at dethroning 14-time major winner Woods, whose timetable to resume pursuit of Nicklaus' all-time record major win total is uncertain.
The greatest last-day comeback to win in Masters history is eight strokes by Jack Burke in 1956.
Of the 13 players who began the final round below par, there were no multiple major winners. Past major champions in that group include Watson from the 2012 Masters, Jim Furyk from the 2003 US Open, England's Justin Rose from last year's US Open and Couples from the 1992 Masters.
There have been 15 first-time major winners in the past 19 majors and 19 different winners in the prior 21 majors, only Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson winning twice in that span.