Top six chasing Masters glory: Who will be wearing a Green Jacket after Sunday's final round?

Hideki Matsuyama leads the field by four strokes with 18 holes to play and we now know that, unless Jordan Spieth can achieve something sensational, there will be a first-time winner at Augusta.

And then there were 12.

Or is it just five?

Maybe only two.

Or perhaps it's already over.

The 2021 Masters has seen a return to the fast and form conditions we expect in spring and, with just 18 holes to play, history demands that of the 88 players we started with on Thursday, and 54 who made it to the weekend, now just a handful have any hope of participating in the most awkward conversation in sport - the back-patting blather in the Butler Cabin on Sunday night.

The last man to win from outside the top 10 in the Masters? Art Wall Jr. back in 1959. That leaves us with the dozen players currently lying T10th and better.

But what of the last 31 tournaments? In each and every one of those, the winner emerged from the top five at this stage.

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It's also true that the eventual champion has also played in the final pairing in 25 of the last 30 editions so maybe the short-list is even nothing more than a question of "either/or".

And yet Hideki Matsuyama leads four men (Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose and Will Zalatoris) by four shots. Persuasive enough, surely, to believe that he can't possibly lose it from here.

Despite all of this, we will be faithfully told that anyone can win it. It is, like them all, a Masters tradition like no other.

More credibly, Matsuyama will be under no illusion that the tournament is over because the shadow of Greg Norman's demise 25 years ago stretches further across the course than the property's tallest trees combined.

So we are left with yet another enticing Masters Sunday prospect.

The pacesetter starts the day an odds-on favourite, but is it really all done and dusted? Let's take a closer look at a few important factors in the destiny of the Green Jacket followed by the case for and against the chances of the leading contenders.

The first three holes

Any four shot 54-hole lead is better than none, but it's also the case that players are well aware that there is a nasty added-factor with an apparently overwhelming advantage. As Inbee Park recently put it: "The bigger the gap, the bigger the pressure. I have definitely felt (extra) pressure leading by five (because you know) if you don't win you've done something really wrong."

Above and beyond that truth is the nature of Augusta National. The first hole is a nasty par-4, while the second is a vulnerable par-5 and the third a short par-4.

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There is a very strong chance that at least two of the quartet currently tied second will make swift gains while it would also be quite possible for a nervy leader to make bogey at the first. Suddenly, the situation would be very different.

Obviously, Matsuyama also has the second and third available to make gains, but Augusta does provide chasers with that opportunity to breath down his neck early on.

The numbers

We've already seen that the top 12/5/2/1 have an advantage over the rest, but what are the others stats worth bearing in mind?

Nine of the last ten Masters winners had already finished top three in the year.

And in the tournament itself, eight of ten excelled (ranking first or second) in Greens in Regulation, Scrambling or Putting (all ten had at least one top five ranking).

Finally, bogey count: only one of the last 13 winners chalked up a bogey or worse count in double figures.

Hideki Matsuyama

Is the smaller Japanese media presence a help this week? Matsuyama is frequently besieged by them at Majors, but their number is down this week due to Covid restrictions. He may also be a little inspired by the win last week of his compatriot Tsubasa Kajitani in the Augusta National Women's Amateur.

How have players with significant third round Masters leads fared in the last 25 years? Norman we know of. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson have converted four shot leads, Rory McIlroy didn't. Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed all polished off three shot advantages. A two blow lead was good enough for Trevor Immelman, but not for Fred Couples, Jeff Maggert or Francesco Molinari.

Matsuyama's stats are good. He leads Scrambling, is fifth for Greens in Regulation and has made just four bogeys all week - he's earned the chance to make a few on Sunday.

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His potential problems? The weight of history is one - he would become the first Japanese winner of a Major Championship and an already giddy home life would become pure madness. His Saturday 65 was his best-ever Masters lap and he went bogey-free. Great news, but going 36 holes without a dropped shot? Unlikely, so he'll have to encounter that problem at some point surely.

He's 6-for-7 at winning with a 54-hole advantage on his home circuit, but 1-for-4 on the PGA and WGC, hasn't won anywhere in nearly four years and has no top three finish since last November.

Best price 5/6 Paddy Power.

Xander Schauffele

Twice second this year, the Californian has dropped seven shots this week, ranks third for Greens in Regulation, his four wins have come from on the shoulder of the leader, and he plays in the final group with Matsuyama.

Schauffele challenging for major win

Two years ago he finished second here behind Tiger Woods and said immediately: "I'm not one bit sad. I told my caddie on the last hole that we just proved to ourselves that we can win on this property if I just have a little more experience, because some of the putts I'd never seen before. I can definitely win here."

He's a Major Championship machine, with seven top 10s in just 14 starts, but it is also now two years and three months since he last tasted victory.

Best price 5/1 Paddy Power.

Marc Leishman

The Aussie would undoubtedly be a massively popular winner because he even walks in a way that makes you want to be his friend. And he proved what a good mate he is by fist-pumping on the 72nd green when his compatriot and playing partner in the final round of the 2013 Masters, Adam Scott, holed a play-off sealing birdie.

Those memories should hold him in good stead (both Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle played final rounds at Augusta with winners ahead of their own wins) and, like Schauffele, he's made just the seven bogeys this week. He's fifth for Scrambling and outside the top 10 in the other two categories so will need at least one to really shine on Sunday, and he has a best of fourth this year.

Best price 12/1 Unibet.

Justin Rose

Sat in his trophy room last month, visualising playing rounds of golf at Augusta, thinking his way around the course. Did he imagine it could go this well?!?!

Rose proud of battling finish

He has the most experience of those in the top five, is the only Major Champion among them (the 2013 US Open), and knows what it is like to play the final round at Augusta in-contention.

Twice he has been second at this point - when finishing fifth in 2007 and second in 2015. In 2017 he led at this point before losing a play-off to Sergio Garcia.

His bogey and worse count is already against him (10), and he has a best stat ranking of sixth for Putting Average - he'll need the putter to get him over the line on Sunday. He was, however, second this year in the Saudi International.

Best price 10/1 Unibet.

Will Zalatoris

There's something so mad about the idea that the last Augusta rookie to win the Masters had a surname beginning with a Z (Fuzzy Zoeller, 1979) that it almost feels like it might happen.

Good luck to the young American if it does because he won't have felt pressure like this ever. He's made eight scores of bogey or worse so has only a little wriggle room and a best category ranking of sixth (GIR) so needs that to improve in round four.

He doesn't just lack a top three this year, he lacks one on the PGA Tour, but was sixth in the US Open in September.

Best price 10/1 Paddy Power.

Jordan Spieth

Someone will, eventually, defy history and make a successful final round attack from off the pace. And if anyone could do it, maybe Spieth (currently solo seventh and six shots back)? He's audacious enough.

Watch out for the 12th though. He made a mess of it in 2016 to lose the title and yesterday he started twitching like Herbert Lom in The Pink Panther when he reached the tee box.

Best price 18/1 Bet365.

READ MORE: Matsuyama masters the back nine on Saturday and leads: Can he claim a first Green Jacket on Sunday?

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