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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Bubba Watson closed his third round Saturday with a birdie at the difficult par-4 18th hole to finish with a 2-under-par 70 for the day.
Through the first three rounds of the Masters, the 450-yard 18th has played as the second-hardest hole at Augusta National. With 95 bogeys, this uphill dog-leg right has played over par every day of the tournament. On Thursday, Henrik Stenson made a mess of it with an eight after leading the tournament for most of the day.
Watson is now 1 under on the 18th for the week, and 6 under overall. The 33-year-old's steady play on the difficult holes is a good reason why he's just three shots back of the leader -- Peter Hanson at 9 under -- heading into the final round.
On Augusta's top five most difficult holes -- 1, 9, 10, 11 and 18 -- he's just 3-over par. And he's 1 under on the par-3 12th, which always gives players fits. But surprisingly, he's only 5 under for the tournament on par-5s. His birdie on the 18th hole was only the ninth made there Saturday.
And he likes the momentum that gives him going into Sunday.
"I think my odds are a lot better since I birdied the last hole," Watson said. "It's one of those things where you've got to play good. You know, you've got to play a good round. The other guys have been playing so good and they are going to keep playing good.
|Bubba Watson has played the five toughest holes at Augusta this week just 3-over par.|
"You can't expect them to back up, you have got to expect them to keep going forward. So you have got to shoot a low number."
This is Watson's fourth Masters. Though this is only his 15th major championship, he's shown a penchant for competing at a high level. In his first major, the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he finished in a tie for fifth. He lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer three years later in the PGA at Whistling Straits.
This season the three-time PGA Tour winner is finally becoming a consistent player. He's had seven top-25 finishes this season, including three top-10s. One of those top-10s was a second at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where he held the lead going into the final round before shooting a 74 on the last day to lose by a stroke to Justin Rose.
Watson measures success through consistency, not wins. Top-25s and top-10s matter a lot to him -- as they do most players.
"No matter what, I am going to come out here tomorrow and try to shoot under par," Watson said. "If I shoot a good enough number then it's great, but I'm looking at my consistency. Every week I'm having a shot at it.
"Somehow if I have a top-10 tomorrow, a top-5, I'll be happy. I'm just looking at consistency. Before Tiger [Woods] started winning 90 tournaments a year everybody was about who top-10s the most. Now it's one tournament and your year is good. So I'm just trying to look at getting a top-20 each week.
"My goal is to come out here on Sunday and shoot under par."
That emphasis on consistency will eventually lift him into more wins and many opportunities to win major championships. He knows the more he's in contention, the more likely he'll eventually have a breakthrough in a major. But to win the green jacket on Sunday, he might have to take some chances that might go against the sometimes conservative mindset when players are playing for good finishes instead of the win.
His birdie at the 18th to get a shot closer to the leader shows that he has the guts on this course to go for the win.
Last week, he and his wife, Angie, finalized the adoption of a baby boy they named Caleb. Bubba left Angie and Caleb back at their rented house in the Isleworth community in Windermere, Fla. He's sharing a house this week with his mother, Molly, his caddie, Ted Scott, his father-in-law and trainer. Bubba takes comfort from being around his friends and family. They help him relax, but he'll still be nervous come his penultimate tee time at 2:30 p.m. ET on Easter Sunday. He's paired with Louis Oosthuizen, who after a 69 on Saturday is two shots back of Hanson at 7-under par.
"I'm used to the nervous feeling. I'm used to my stomach," Watson said Saturday evening. "It's going to be fun, though. It's going to be a tough, tough battle out there, just me and the golf course, not worry about the other people. This is what we live to do, is play golf and travel to big tournaments."
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.