AUGUSTA, Ga. — You couldn’t know who to follow at the Masters Saturday given all the players who started the day in the lead or close to it. So I let them come to me.
I wandered out to the fairway at the par-4 third hole, where you could see the greens of that hole and the one back at the par-5 No. 2. And from where you could hear the cheers from, well, all over Augusta National Golf Club.
The way the noise caroms off the pines and dogwoods all the assorted other trees here and seems to somehow gain volume, the roars would make lions cower and send bears scampering back into the woods.
Such a sound was heard from the few thousand folks sitting around the No. 2 green when Phil Mickelson followed his birdie at No. 1 with another birdie to get to 2-under for the tourney and within two shots of the lead.
“I pray he keeps it up,” said a middle-aged male fan near me behind the ropes at that No. 3 fairway. Mickelson promptly made a double-bogey at 3.
A little later, another big roar came from the No. 2 green when Fred Couples made a birdie.
Mickelson and Jordan Spieth were playing partners Saturday. Mickelson is 46, Spieth 23. That was nothing. Couples is 57, and his playing partner, Jon Rahm is 22.
You don’t see 57-year-olds compete at elite levels against 22-year-olds in other professional sports. Heck, they rarely do so in beer pong.
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“That would be cool if the old guy won,” an old guy in the gallery said about Couples.
“Yeah, let the old guy win,” said his companion, who also happened to be an old guy.
“Freddie!” people yelled at Couples as he walked up the No. 3 fairway. “Rosie!” one guy shouted at Justin Rose as Rose proceeded down that same fairway a little earlier.
No one hollered “Tommy!” as Thomas Pieters came through in the next-to-last twosome. Or anything else, for that matter. But I did hear someone tell a friend that “William McGrit” and Ryan Moore were headed our way. He meant William McGirt, I think.
We saw Rory McIlroy wearing bright orange pants. We saw Rickie Fowler wearing bright blue pants. This is considered acceptable fashion for males only at golf courses and on stage at a Flaming Lips concert.
The Flaming Lips were in Augusta Thursday night, by the way. The city of Augusta, not Augusta National.
Back to the No. 3 fairway. A man was wearing a cap touting Hammer Ranch in Montana.
A tournament marshal inside the ropes was pleased to see it, and told the man “I’m from Montana!”
“I’ve never been there,” the man said. “I’m from Nebraska.”
“You stole that hat,” the marshal said, presumably joking.
But the man from Nebraska didn’t reply.
The final pairing of Charley Hoffman and Sergio Garcia wrapped up play at No. 3, and I headed back to the press building. On the way, I passed the No. 8 green where Spieth and Mickelson were about to arrive.
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From 288 yards out on the par-5, Spieth’s second shot bounced on the green, hopped off, then rolled down a slope and back onto the green, stopping 10 feet from the cup. All the bears within a half-mile probably took off running after the roar that followed that shot.
When Spieth stood over the eagle attempt, a few thousand people were as quiet as a few thousand people can get. I’ve been to many a moment of silence at a sporting event that was noisier.
Spieth missed the putt, tapped in for birdie, and continued his climb into contention for the lead. Mickelson bogeyed the hole, however. He also bogeyed the next hole, shot a 2-over 74, and tumbled out of the discussion about who will win on Sunday.
The fan who prayed for Mickelson must not have been heard above all the roars for Garcia, Spieth and others on Saturday.
And now, Sunday’s conclusion. Rose and Garcia from England and Spain, respectively, share the 54-hole lead. Americans Fowler, Spieth, Moore and Hoffman are within two shots of the lead.
There will be roars.