Rabalais: Like an old hand, Masters rookie Jordan Spieth dodges mistakes

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It is said that Augusta National Golf Club has one of the best wine cellars in the world.

If Jordan Spieth wins the Masters on Sunday, he’ll probably get carded when he orders a glass of the National’s celebrated grape next year at his own Champions Dinner.

This kid not only stays in the picture, he IS the picture. Jordan Spieth is 20 years old, and he’s tied for the lead with 18 holes to go in the Masters.

Not a college golf tournament. Not the John Deere Classic, which to date is his one and only PGA Tour win. But the Masters.

If you reside north of the legal drinking age (don’t worry, we won’t ask to see your ID), stop and think on this for a moment: How good were you at anything at 20, except sneaking into college bars?

Fifty-year old Miguel Angel Jimenez, two strokes off the lead after a tournament-best 66, has cigars older than Jordan Spieth.

This is a tournament where you’re supposed to have a wrinkle or two, some gray hairs, before you’re worthy to slip on the green jacket.

This is the major where rookies go to die.

You can count the number of first-time Masters winners on as many fingers as it took Michael Fassbender’s character to get whacked in that bar “La Louisiane” in “Inglourious Basterds.”

Horton Smith won the first one in 1934. The great Gene Sarazen won on his first try in 1935, having skipped the first Masters because he thought the “Augusta National Invitation Tournament” was some joke and tossed his invitation.

And there was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. That’s it. The Masters has gone as long without a rookie winner as horse racing has gone without a Triple Crown winner.

It’s that hard of a tournament to win. It’s that hard of a course. There’s a hot rumor that the greens are so firm they’re paving them at night instead of cutting them.

Ask fellow first-timer and former junior golf rival Patrick Reed how tough it is to get around Augusta National without cutting yourself. He and Spieth, along with fellow young gun Rory McIlroy were paired together during the first two rounds.

Reed was sent packing to rest someplace quiet after missing the cut, jibbering to himself about the airport apron-like putting surfaces.

McIlroy once hit a house when leading the Masters on Sunday. On Friday he nearly hit a Masters champion, Adam Scott, when his tee shot sailed 30 yards over the green on the fourth hole and into foliage and a fence, resulting in an unplayable lie.

Reed and McIlroy played like they were volatile stocks. Spieth has been all government bonds — slow, steady, seemingly spectacular growth yet providing a solid return to those who invested in him in their Masters pool.

Spieth hasn’t been heroic through his first 54 holes here. Just steady. He has shot 71-70-70 to get to 5-under-par.

“I know if I shoot a couple under it should be good enough,” he said.

If Spieth wins without breaking 70 on Sunday, he’ll be the first Masters champion to do that since Larry Mize in 1987.

What may be more impressive than Spieth’s ability to play that way is the fact he is thinking that way. Sensibly. Solidly.

Elderly?

“I see an old head on young shoulders,” veteran European golfer Colin Montgomerie said of Spieth on Saturday night on the Golf Channel.

There is a chance, a good chance, that Spieth could get run over by co-leader Bubba Watson on Sunday. Watson won the Masters two years ago, giving him the one thing Spieth doesn’t have: experience. And he hits the kind of epic shots that could leave any competitor cowering.

There’s also a strong possibility Spieth could succumb to a great Masters final round rally. This tournament is loved for a lot of reasons, one of them the Sunday charges. Jack Nicklaus’ 65 in 1986. Gary Player’s 64 in 1978.

Jimenez, Matt Kuchar, Ricky Fowler, Lee Westwood, even fellow first-timer Jonas Blixt could track Spieth down.

But Spieth is already thinking like Watson. Both of them are following a game plan that has them aiming for the middle of greens and taking what they can get from there.

Spieth is tied for the tournament lead in greens in regulation with Zurich Classic of New Orleans defending champion Billy Horschel (another Masters rookie). Watson is third.

Do we see a pattern here?

A lot of folks covering this tournament came here thinking Spieth had the game and temperament to win the Masters — one day.

Who would have thought that Sunday could be the day?