By Julian Linden
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Bubba Watson was feeling good about his chances of winning a second Masters title despite squandering a sizeable lead in Saturday's third round, and for good reason.
After starting the day three shots in front then extending his lead to five strokes early in his round, the American's advantage quickly whittled away.
By the time he got to the 18th green, he needed to make a clutch putt to save par and finish tied for the lead with Jordan Spieth, the baby-faced 20-year-old who is bidding to become the youngest Masters champion.
"If this is my worst day, I'm still tied for the lead," said Watson, who followed up his previous rounds of 69 and 68 with a 74. "I have a great shot for tomorrow.
"If somebody told me I would have shot two-over and still be tied for the lead, I would have taken it in a heartbeat."
"If I shoot 90 tomorrow I still have a green jacket."
Having already won the title, Watson said he was not under pressure to win again. The American claimed the coveted green jacket two years after a sudden-death playoff with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen.
Faced with a seemingly impossible shot from deep in the woods, the left-handed Watson pulled off one of the most remarkable strokes seen in a major golf championship when he bent the ball around the trees and on to the green on his way to a par that clinched the title.
The shot has been replayed countless times on television and visitors to the course make a pilgrimage to the spot where he played it.
Watson has taken a more conventional route to the top of the leaderboard this week. With his booming drives and unwavering self-belief from his 2012 win, he has been able to carefully plot his way around the course with a minimum of fuss.
On Saturday, he averaged 308 yards off the tee and missed just one of 14 fairways. But he failed to consolidate his tee to green success by taking 33 putts to complete his round, seven more than he needed on Friday.
"I hit my driver really well but had a couple three-putts," he said. "If I don't three-putt, then, obviously, I'm winning instead of tied for the lead."
Watson is bidding to become just the 17th player to win at least two Masters titles. The 35-year-old Floridian, who has never had a coach, may play with a cavalier approach to the game but he knows the stakes are high.
"We are all trying to do the same thing. We are all going to be nervous and we all know what it means to our career, for our status to move forward in the game," he said.
"So it's going to be tough for everybody, not just guys that have never won one."
When Watson won in 2011, he was in the penultimate group, and shot a 68 to finish at 10-under, then waited anxiously to learn his fate.
This time he will be in the final pairing, when the pressure of trying to win can be suffocating. Watson said he not only believes he can cope with it, but is looking forward to the experience.
"You always have that dream as a kid when you're growing up, so when you get here, you hear the same roars and you want to be part of those roars."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Larry Fine)