Watson closes in on his second Masters title

Mark Lamport-Stokes
U.S. golfer Bubba Watson finishes play in the third round of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta
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U.S. golfer Bubba Watson finishes play in the third round of the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia April 12, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Bubba Watson was poised to win the Masters for a second time in three years after stretching his lead to three shots with three holes remaining at the 78th Masters on Sunday.

The American left-hander, who clinched his first major title with a thrilling playoff victory over South African Louis Oosthuizen at Augusta National in 2012, mixed five birdies with two bogeys to get to eight under for the tournament.

Watson's playing partner Jordan Spieth, at 20 aiming to become the youngest player to win the Masters, had briefly been two strokes clear but faltered around the turn to slip back into a tie for second at five under.

Swede Jonas Blixt, like Spieth a Masters debutant, was also at five under, after 16 holes, with American Matt Kuchar and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez a further shot back.

Kuchar, a Georgia resident seeking his first major victory, had completed 16 holes while the pony-tailed Jimenez was through 17.

Spieth had been the dominant figure in the early going with some riveting golf on a warm but mainly overcast afternoon, four birdies and a bogey in the first seven holes putting him two ahead of the chasing pack.

He picked up his first shot of the day at the par-five second, sinking a left-to-right breaking putt from 10 feet, then spectacularly holed out from a greenside bunker to birdie the par-three fourth, raising both arms in celebration.

Though he bogeyed the fifth after hitting his approach into a greenside bunker, he recovered with birdies at the par-three sixth, hitting his tee shot to three feet, and at the seventh, where he coaxed in a slick 12-footer downhill.

Watson, who had offset a bogey at the third with a birdie at the fourth, kicked in with another birdie at the sixth where his tee shot ended up nine feet from the cup and he coolly sank the putt.

He then benefited from two-shot swings at the eighth and ninth. While Watson got up and down from left of the green to birdie the par-five eighth, Spieth ran up a three-putt bogey to drop back into a tie for the lead at seven under.

Spieth also bogeyed the par-four ninth after his approach rolled off the front of the elevated green and he failed to get up and down from there, missing a par putt from five feet.

Watson hit his second shot there to 15 feet and, with ice-cool nerve, rolled in the birdie putt which broke from right-to-left.

Though Watson stumbled with a bogey at the tricky 10th, he regained a two-stroke cushion when Spieth fell victim to the swirling winds around Amen Corner with a bogey at the par-three 12th after his tee shot ended up in the water of Rae's Creek.

The long-hitting Watson increased his lead to three shots at the par-five 13th after a huge drive set up a comfortable two-putt birdie before he parred 14 and 15 to maintain his advantage.

German veteran Bernhard Langer, a double Masters champion, rolled back the years with a closing 69 to finish at even par, level with Rory McIlroy (69), Americans Jimmy Walker (70) and Kevin Stadler (73) and Australian John Senden (73).

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)