Jordan Spieth was last night on the verge of completing one of the most dominant victories in Masters history.
Having led since his opening-0round 64 on Thursday, the 21-year-old Texan began the final day four clear of England’s Justin Rose.
After a fast start by both men in the final group, that cushion which was twice cut to three shots, had become five.
And when he rolled in a long birdie putt on the 10th, Spieth had reopened a six-shot gap and had one arm in the green jacket and his first major championship.
The world No 4 had come into the year’s first major heavily fancied after finishing second at Augusta on his debut 12 months ago, and having never been out of the top two in any of his last three tournaments on the PGA Tour.
Yet no-one could have envisaged a performance so dominant from a young man who less than two years ago, partnered Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick in the first two rounds of the Open at Muirfield, as both men made their major debuts.
Spieth was looking to become the first wire-to-winner of the Masters since Ray Floyd in 1976, as well as the second youngest champion ever behind Woods.
The 21-year-old is five months older than Woods was when he claimed his first green jacket in 1997, but the last 21-year-old to hold a four-shot lead going into the final round was Rory McIlroy, who collapsed to a closing 80 in 2011.
A victory for Rose would make him the first European player to have won the Masters and US Open, the second English winner at Augusta after Nick Faldo and the first European winner since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.
Rose – the 2013 US Open champion – had played the first five holes in two over par on Saturday and was also three over for the first four on Friday, but reversed that trend in emphatic fashion with birdies on the first and second. That cut Spieth’s lead by a shot for the first time as the American followed Rose in from 10 feet on the first but failed to get up and down from the back of the second green, buthe then holed from 15 feet on the third.
Spieth misjudged a chip from right of the fifth green and in the end did well to salvage a bogey, allowing Rose to get within three of the lead for the second time thanks to a superb recovery from a greenside bunker.
But the gap was back to four shots when Rose’s tee shot on the sixth span back off the front of the green, and another shot looked certain to go on the next.
Rose drove into the trees and failed to escape fully at the first attempt, but then conjured up a superb pitch which used the slope behind the pin and almost rolled back into the hole.
The shot drew a thumbs up from Spieth, but the American was unable to make par himself from the front edge of the green and saw his lead cut to three shots once more.
Spieth had said after his third round he could not rely on his short game to secure a first green jacket, but an excellent pitch from just short of the eighth green set up a birdie that Rose could not match.
And when Rose three-putted the ninth Spieth had the comfort of a five-shot lead with nine holes to play, with Phil Mickelson another shot back having also bogeyed the ninth.
The star pairing of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods had failed to produce the fireworks they needed to get into contention, with McIlroy going out in 34 after birdies on the seventh and eighth.
And Woods had more pressing concerns than being out in 37, the 14-time major winner hurting his wrist after appearing to hit a hidden tree root when playing his second shot out of the pine straw on the ninth. He did eagle 13 though as he showed flashes of his old self.
Danny Willett shot three rounds under par on his Masters debut but left Augusta feeling let down by his putting.
The 27-year-old from Sheffield added a third 71 of the week to Saturday’s testing 76 to finish on one over par, a score good enough for a finish of around 40th.
He said: “It’s a bit disappointing. I played some good golf but didn’t ever quite get it going.
“I had 33 putts today for a 71, so my ball-striking is good but I couldn’t take advantage. It was a bit of a stale week really, on the course.”
“It’s been a great week, though. I’ve had my wife, mum, dad and little brother here and my wife’s dad too, so it’s been fun.”