MASTERS NOTES: Tech grad Kuchar puts himself in contention

Matt Kuchar of the U.S. hits his approach shot to the first green during third round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 13, 2013.   REUTERS/Phil Noble (UNITED STATES  - Tags: SPORT GOLF)

Matt Kuchar of the U.S. hits his approach shot to the first green during third round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 13, 2013. REUTERS/Phil Noble (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT GOLF)

AUGUSTA -- Matt Kuchar remembers the shot that nearly made him a champion.

He can almost still hear the roar of the crowd.

Now the Georgia Tech grad is ready to bring all of those feeling back.

One year after finding himself tied for the lead in the final round of the Masters after an eagle on No. 15, Kuchar stormed up the leaderboard Saturday with a 3-under 69 to move into sixth place.

"I've not quite had the feelings anywhere else that I did when I made the eagle on 15 last year and got right in contention," said Kuchar, who is three shots behind leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera. "Last year was my first real time being in contention going late into Sunday. It's kind of what we all play golf for, having a chance at a major championship, having a chance at the Masters tournament, it's exciting.

This time around the 34-year-old from Winter Park, Fla., believes he will be more comfortable as he steps into the spotlight in the final day at Augusta National.

"The more comfortable you get, I think the better you play," he said. "We have all hit a thousand golf shots before. They all seem to get a little bit bigger and a little bit more challenging when a tournament's on the line, but hopefully the experience from last year and the continued good play throughout the year has helped and will help (today)."

Kuchar began Saturday's round at 1-under but birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 8 to make the turn at 4-under. He made two birdies and two bogeys on the back nine and was the leader in the clubhouse when he finished about 5 p.m.

"It was a good day and I'm really excited to have a shot (today)," Kuchar said. "I think that maybe (Friday) I missed a couple opportunities and didn't drive it very well. But I kind of cleaned things up (Saturday) and feel like I'm in good shape."

Playing alone

Bubba Watson started to feel the magic again.

One year after dazzling the golfing world with a Masters championship for the ages, the University of Georgia grad, who began the second round 10 shots back of the lead, birdied his first three holes to get to 1-over.

Watson, who was the first to tee off Saturday and played by himself, stayed at 1-over through the turn and got to even-par with a birdie on No. 10 but double-bogeyed No. 11 and bogeyed Nos. 12 and 18 to finish the day with a 2-under 70 and nine shots off the lead.

"When I started that's my goal, my goal was to get back in this," Watson said. "I had some great pars right there in the middle of the round, and then just one bad swing got the momentum going the other way. So just like in any sport, when you get the momentum going the other way, it seems like everything's against you."

Watson's round took a turn for the worse with his second shot on No. 11 when he over cut his approach, and the ball skidded over the corner of the green and into the water.

"I knew it as soon as I hit it, I even told my caddie, I said, 'Oh, that's in the water,'" Watson said. "I knew where it was going, it was going to come off those slopes and go right in the water and that's what it did."

Child's play

Tianlang Guan raised both hands then lifted his cap into the air as roars echoed around the 18th green.

The 14-year-old from China left the third round at Augusta National without any birdies, but he walked away from his 5-over 77 with one of the tournament's most exciting pars.

Guan, the youngest to ever compete at the Masters and the youngest to make the cut at a major since 1900, rolled in a par putt from 60 feet on No. 18 -- a shot that didn't bring him to the top of the leaderboard but one that brought the crowd to their feet.

"It's great for me, and I think I had a pretty good run in the first two days, and (Saturday) feels pretty good, not bad," Guan said.

Guan, the last amateur remaining in the tournament, teed off early in the morning and was followed by a frenzied crowd that chanted the 8th-grader's name and gave him the star-treatment usually reserved for players the caliber of Tiger Woods.

"I didn't think of it too much," Guan said of the attention he received. "But I'm really happy and I really appreciate that they're watching me here.

"It's just a great week for me, and I really enjoy it. People here are nice, and I learned a lot from the top players. I think I played pretty good rounds these three days. It's really great."

Guan wasn't just impressing the crowds.

"Unbelievable. He's a great player," said Thorbjorn Olesen, Guan's playing partner. "I mean, every shot he hit was almost at the pin and in the right spots. He could have holed a few more putts today, but he didn't. But I was really impressed by his game. It was impressive to watch."

Guan sits at 9-over after firing a 5-over 77 Saturday, but as the low amateur he is guaranteed a spot in Butler Cabin today alongside the tournament winner.

"It's my honor to be there and I'm really happy," he said.

Out of the picture

The weather was ideal. The azaleas were blooming. The crowds were buzzing.

It was the perfect day at Augusta National for Phil Mickelson.

Perfect, except for his golf game.

"It is a beautiful day here, and you cannot get a more majestic day here at the Masters," Mickelson said. "I just played terrible."

Mickelson matched his lowest round at the Masters with a 5-over 77, dropping the three-time champ at Augusta to 8-over. He started his round with a bogey on the first hole and picked up three more bogeys and a pair of double-bogeys before closing with three straight pars.

"I'm just not hitting very good golf shots, missing it in bad spots and not really knowing which side I'm going to miss it on," he said. "So my play has been beyond terrible, and that's certainly disappointing."

Mickelson, who last won the tournament in 2010, has finished in the Top 10 only twice this season and entered this week ranked ninth in the world golf rankings.

"The ballstriking, I just don't know where it's going to go," he said. "But again, I'm having fun here, but it's disappointing. This is the one event I look forward to more than anything, and it's just kind of heartbreaking to play the way I've been playing. Disappointed in myself."