Rose stretches Masters lead as Conners, Spieth surge

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Justin Rose stretched his lead to three strokes early in Saturday's third round of the Masters with three-time major winner Jordan Spieth on his heels and Canada's Corey Conners leaping into contention with an ace.

Rose, who started the weekend with a one-stroke lead on seven-under 137, began with back-to-back birdies, sinking a clutch 12-foot putt on the opening hole at Augusta National.

The 40-year-old Englishman rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 second to reach 9-under.

Spieth birdied the second to join a pack in second on 6-under.

The electrifying moment belonged to Conners, who aced the 180-yard par-3 sixth. He watched the shot bounce twice and roll into the cup.

Conners had started his charge with birdies at the par-5 second and par-4 third and answered a bogey at the par-4 fifth with the ace. the 33rd in Masters history and just the sixth at the sixth hole.

The world number 43 followed with a birdie at the seventh to join Spieth in a second-place pack at 6-under.

It was the second ace of this year's Masters. England's Tommy Fleetwood aced the par-3 16th on Monday for the first.

It's the seventh time in Masters history there have been two or more aces in the event year, with the record of three coming in 2004 and 2016.

Swirling winds were expected to grow more brisk ahead of late-afternoon storms when the final groups will be on the back nine of what has been a lightning-fast layout.

Rose, twice a Masters runner-up, won his only major title at the 2013 US Open. The world number 41 has led or shared the Masters lead after seven career rounds, the most of any player never to win a green jacket.

"Day three plays pretty difficult here at Augusta National," Rose said. "You just have to keep hitting the shots."

Rose is trying to become the sixth wire-to-wire Masters champion after Americans Craig Wood (1941), Arnold Palmer (1960), Jack Nicklaus (1972), Ray Floyd (1976) and Spieth (2015).

Augusta National announced prize money figures Saturday with the same totals as the past two years, the winner taking home $2.07 million (1.7 Euros) from a total purse of $11.5 million.

Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, will overtake Dustin Johnson to become world number one if he wins the green jacket after 2020 Masters champion Johnson missed the cut.

Spieth snapped a four-year win drought last week in San Antonio. Only twice since 1960 has a player won the Masters the week after a US PGA Tour victory -- US left-hander Phil Mickelson in 2006 after a triumph in Atlanta and Scotland's Sandy Lyle, who won at Greensboro the week before taking the 1988 Masters.

Zalatoris could become the first player to win the Masters in his debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

"If I'm stupid enough to think I can play here, then I'm stupid enough to think I can win it," Zalatoris said.

- Horschel falls on rear -

Early Saturday starter Billy Horschel had a tough time at the par-5 13th hole.

After plunking his second shot into Rae's Creek in front of the green, the American removed his shoes and walked barefoot down a greenside slope, then slipped and fell on his rear.

Horschel rose, brushed the grass off his white pants and stepped into the water, then punched his third shot onto the green on the way to a par.

South Korean Kim Si-woo, who broke his putter on the 15th hole Friday and used a 3-wood to putt on four closing pars, has a replacement putter -- one that helped American Pat Perez win at Mayakoba in 2016.