AUGUSTA -- Sergio Garcia, winless in 73 prior majors, shook off a Masters legacy of third-round setbacks Saturday to match Rio Olympic champion Justin Rose for the lead entering the final round.
Garcia has gone a combined 38-over par to average 75 in 13 prior Masters third rounds. But this time he fired a two-under par 70 to match the best of those rounds from 2002 to join England’s Rose in Sunday’s final pairing with a great chance at a long-sought dream.
“Got to go out there and believe in myself again as much as I’ve been doing, be patient and don’t freak out even if I do something wrong,” Garcia said.
Rose, the 2013 US Open winner, birdied five of the last seven holes to shoot 67 in ideal conditions to join the 37-year-old Spaniard, this week’s only player with three sub-par rounds, on six-under 210 through 54 holes at Augusta National.
“I liked my confidence on the greens. They were rolling perfectly,” Rose said. “I just stayed with it and everything began to click into gear on the back nine.
“You’ve got to be aggressive at times, but this is a course where you’ve got to pick your moments. That game plan worked well for me today and I’m sure it will again tomorrow.”
Garcia could end his major drought Sunday on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol, the late Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros.
“Hopefully he will help me a little bit,” Garcia said. “His help is always welcome. Hopefully he helps a little bit tomorrow from up there and tomorrow we’ll have something good to celebrate.”
Asked what advice he thought he might get from Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54, Garcia replied, “Believe in yourself, try to enjoy as much as possible, try to have fun and do your best.”
Eighth-ranked American Rickie Fowler, one stroke back in third after a 71, hopes to win the first green jacket awarded since the death of his idol, Arnold Palmer, last September.
“It would be special,” Fowler said. “We’re going to go out and give it our all for him.”
‘You have to go for it’
Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion whose back-nine Sunday meltdown last year cost him a repeat crown, fired a 68 to share fourth on 212 with fellow Americans Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman, a co-leader until finding the water at the par-3 16th and making double bogey.
If Spieth wins after an opening 75 that had him trailing by 10 shots, it would be the best 54-hole victory fightback in Masters history.
“After the first round, I couldn’t ask for much better than this,” Spieth said. “If you have a chance you have to go for it and pull off the shot. Those are the kind of moments people who win this tournament have on Sunday.”
Australia’s Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters winner, was seventh on 213 with 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa another stroke adrift with England’s Lee Westwood and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters on 215.
World number two Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion, shot 71 to stand on 216 and was not confident of a victory that would complete a career grand slam.
“I’m going to need to probably play the round of my life tomorrow to have a chance,” said McIlroy, who shot 65 in the 2011 first round and 66 on Sunday in 2015.
“I’ve shot low ones here before. My lowest round here, I’m not sure it’s going to be low enough.”
Garcia birdied the fifth and sandwiched a birdie at the par-5 eighth between bogeys but added birdies at the par-5 13th and 15th and parred in, sinking a testy six footer at the last.
“Just fighting hard,” Garcia said. “I kept fighting with all I had. It’s about staying patient. I hit some good shots on the back nine coming in. It was good to see.”
At 13, Garcia gave a look of despair watching his ball in the air. It appeared to plunk into Rae’s Creek but clung to the far bank, allowing him to chip it inches from the pin for a tap-in birdie.
“Got a great break on 13,” he said. “That was good to see.”