By Mark Long
AUGUSTA, Ga.: Adam Scott lost his touch on the treacherous greens at Augusta National.
Scott came up short with his long putter on Saturday, three-putting twice in the first four holes and tumbled down the leaderboard at the Masters Tournament.
Scott needed 35 putts to get through the third round and finished with a 4-over 76 that left him 1 over for the tournament. He is 6 strokes behind co-leaders Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson heading into the final round.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Scott said. “There are a lot of people between me and the leaders. But if I can play a good front nine, anything can happen on the back, and it would be fun to post a number and sit in the clubhouse and watch.”
The defending Masters champion is trying to become the fourth to don consecutive green jackets. Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02) accomplished the feat.
By the time Scott teed off in the third round, the Augusta greens were getting harder and faster by the minute. Scott handled them with relative ease last year and again in the first two rounds this time around.
But they got to him Saturday.
He three-putted the par-4 first and did the same at par-3 fourth. Throw in two putts everywhere else through seven holes, and Scott’s anchored putter failed him. He shot a 4-over 40 on the front nine.
“I just kind of compounded my mistakes early with a couple three-putts and got me off on the wrong foot,” said Scott, whose anchored putting technique will be banned beginning in 2016. “And with conditions being so hard when you’re on the back foot, this is a very hard course to pull shots in. Even with opportunities at 13 and 15, I didn’t manage to do it. And I just fought really hard but I couldn’t get any of those early shots back.
“I’m disappointed, but a good round tomorrow could go a long, long way.”
Fred Couples figured out the third round of the Masters a bit better than he has in recent years. Now he’s holding out hope that the final round could yield something spectacular.
Couples goes into the final round 4 shots off the lead and a long shot by anyone’s estimation at the age of 54. But the 1992 winner will be playing late today, a time when strange things can happen.
“I’m playing pretty good golf and I have a shot tomorrow of shooting some silly round to maybe win, but it’s going to take a 65 or 66,” Couples said. “But you never know.”
Couples has been in contention going into the weekend several times in recent years, only to fade in the third round. But his 1-over 73 on Saturday was an improvement over his last two Masters, when he shot 75 and 77 to drop from the leaderboard.
“My average went down,” he said. “I’m not smart enough to know what 75, 77 and 73 is, but it wasn’t bad. I actually played OK.”
Couples said he can see someone making a run at the leaders from the earlier groups today when the course will be a bit softer. But he said the course will be hard and fast for the late starters, making it difficult to make up ground.
As the gallery grew and the cheers got louder, Gary Woodland tried to feed off all the energy.
It was quite a ride for the 29-year-old American — right up until he hit Amen Corner.
Woodland matched the lowest score ever on the front nine with a 6-under 30, and actually got his score to 7 under with another birdie at the 10th.
“It was a zone that you want to be in and hopefully I get back in that zone tomorrow,” said Woodland, who admittedly had to catch his breath as he walked to the 11th tee. “I was in a groove. I mean, I had it going. To be honest, I only missed a couple of shots.”
It was looking like Woodland would have the round of the day. But he couldn’t keep it going through the toughest three-hole stretch at Augusta National, where a bogey at the 11th and a double-bogey on 12 stifled his momentum.
“I was trying to birdie every hole,” Woodland said. “I was trying to ride the momentum coming in.”
Woodland rebounded briefly with a birdie at the 13th, but struggled down the stretch and settled for a 69 that left him at even-par 216. He will start the final round 5 strokes behind co-leaders Spieth and Watson.
“I need some help from the guys in front of me,” Woodland said. “But hopefully I can go have a low one tomorrow and see where it stands.”
TV ratings continue to be down at the Masters, where Tiger Woods is absent for the first time in 20 years. ESPN said its live telecast of the second round earned a 1.8 household rating (2.5 million viewers), which was down 40 percent from last year. ... Ben Crenshaw told Golf Channel that he has decided 2015 will be his final year playing the Masters. It will be his 44th consecutive appearance. ... An unidentified woman was thrown out of the Masters after she ran across the green before Watson’s approach shot on the 10th.