AUGUSTA -- Much of the talk heading into the Masters surrounded the dominance of European golfers over their American counterparts.
While a European leads the Masters after three rounds -- Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy leads by four shots -- the depth of that dominance hasn’t presented itself this week at Augusta National Golf Club.
Four Europeans -- McIlroy, Luke Donald, Ross Fisher and Martin Laird -- are in the top 17 through three rounds. The United States has six in the top 17 (Bo Van Pelt, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Ryan Palmer).
The U.S., however, is in danger of not having one of its own in the top three in the Masters for the first time ever.
Van Pelt is the top American on the leaderboard, and he is in eighth place at 6 under, six shots behind McIlroy, but just two shots out of second place. Watson, Couples and Woods are a shot back of Van Pelt, who is ranked 49th in the world.
Heading into the Masters, Europe had six of the top-10 ranked players in the world. The other four were Americans.
Rickie Fowler’s first Masters took a nosedive Saturday.
The exciting 22-year-old shot a 4-over-par 76 in the third round to effectively play his way out of the tournament.
Fowler, who was named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year last year and competed on the Ryder Cup team, moved to 7 under for the tournament with three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the front nine.
A bogey, double-bogey run beginning on No. 7 derailed the former Oklahoma State standout’s round.
On 7, Fowler caught a flier out of a bunker in front of the green and sent the ball into a bunker behind the green.
“I got a couple of bad breaks and then made a couple of bad swings that cost me, and some of those things just happened at the wrong time,” Fowler said.
He never made another birdie and finished the third round at 1 under, tied for 30th place.
“We didn’t want to move backward; we wanted to either maintain or move up,” he said. “But (Sunday) maybe we can get some good breaks and get things going the right way and put in a good round and see if we can kind of back door with a good finish.”
Watson was asked prior to the tournament if Augusta National suited him well because he’s left-handed, and some perceive the course to be better suited to lefties.
He brushed off the question, but Watson has played progressively better with each round at the Masters.
The 32-year-old shot a 5-under 67 on Saturday to move into a tie for ninth heading into the final round. He’s 5 under for the tournament after starting the tournament with rounds of 73-71 to sit entrenched in a tie for 37th heading into Saturday.
“I just had a week off last week, and so usually everything starts ... you get used to playing golf again,” he said. “You’re either going to embarrass yourself or start playing better, and this week I chose to play a little bit better.”
Watson finished tied for 20th and 42nd in his first two Masters.
The former Georgia standout entered this week with two top-five finishes this year.
He beat Phil Mickelson by a shot to win the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines earlier this season. He also advanced to the semifinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship before getting ousted by Martin Kaymer.
Not playing like amateur
Hideki Matsuyama is the only amateur left in the field after the other five missed the cut.
The 19-year-old, however, remains in the hunt to earn an exemption into next year’s Masters.
Matsuyama shot a 68 on Saturday to move into a tie for 18th place heading into the final round. He had just one bogey in the round to go with five birdies.
The Asian Amateur champion would need to finish in the top 16 to earn an exemption into next year’s tournament.