It would not feel like a proper Masters Sunday without the name of Lee Westwood somewhere on the leaderboard and last year’s runner-up ensured he would in the equation yet again with a brilliant 68 to move to one-under.
The 43 year-old has been in the top three here three times in the last seven years and only outside the top 12 in that time period on one occasion. Of course, last year only his fellow Englishman and good friend Danny Willett proved better and Westwood arrived in Georgia believing his form was “night and day compared to 12 months ago”.
Westwood told anyone who would listen that his pre-major odds of 100-1 were too high and on Saturday he proved why. He played his last 15 holes in five-under, with six birdies and just the solitary bogey (on the seventh).
There were three in a row from the fourth, thanks to two 10-footers and a 12-footer on the sixth, and then three in five holes from the 13th, with fine up-and-downs on the two par fives and an outrageous 50-footer on the 17th. The sand save from 40-yards on the 18th only highlighted his sharpness around the greens.
“I did what I needed to do. I needed to get into the red,” Westwood said. “Obviously, I would like to be deep in the red, but one under is pretty good. I’ve got half a chance (on Sunday) if I can get a roll going on the front nine. I hit the ball pretty well, the short game was pretty good and I holed a few putts, so it was nice.”
Of course, it was to prove another great day for England with Justin Rose taking a share of the lead and earlier Paul Casey had fired a 69. Casey, who has been touted as a future Masters champion ever since finishing sixth on his debut in 2004, reeled off four birdies, but the most impressive factor of his scorecard was the absence of bogeys before ruining his run at 18th. But at level par, the world No 16 was in the clubhouse and in some sort of contention.
Until the disappointing denouement, this had been superbly solid from Casey, as he eradicated the putting problems of the first two days, which, he figured, has cost him “four or five three-putts”. The former world No 3 went through the first six holes in level par, finally striking on the difficult seventh when playing a wonderful approach to 12 feet and holing the putt.
Four pars followed, before he arrived at the famous par-three 12th, just 155 yards long but with trouble all around.
Casey struck a wedge to eight feet and, after converting the birdie chance, was two-under for the day and starting to think big. On the par-five 13th, Casey, one of the best ball-strikers out there, hit a three-iron 240 yards to 70 feet and with two putts made it back-to-back red figures.
Fifteen minutes later, Casey was celebrating his hat-trick, after a 15-footer dropped. He failed to get up and down on the 15th for his fourth in a row, but was about to become greedy and was happy enough to get to the last hole without a blemish. The five from the trees was perhaps inevitable, although it could have been worse, as he holed a 10-footer for the five.
By then Matt Fitzpatrick, the 22 year-old from Sheffield, was in the clubhouse with a 73 for a six-over total. Unless he produces something special on Sunday, Fitzpatrick will not be emulating his top 10 finish of last year.
The other two of the six Englishmen to make the cut, Ross Fisher and Andy Sullivan, are eight-over and nine-over respectively, following a 74 and a 76.