AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As a middle-school math and science teacher in his previous life, Michael Greller knows what makes kids tick and what inspires them to grow. He does not miss the lesson planning or the time spent returning emails to parents, but he sure does miss the relationships and the joy of watching a sixth-grader blossom into a seventh-grader.
"Now it's the same thing," said Greller, now a professional caddie, "except that I have one kid, one person I'm working with."
That kid is leading the Masters by four strokes over a U.S. Open champion, Justin Rose, and by five over a five-time major winner, Phil Mickelson. Jordan Spieth, 21, might be expected to melt under the Sunday pressure like 21-year-old Rory McIlroy melted in 2011, or like so many older men have faltered in the past (Yes, we're looking at you Mr. Norman).
After all, Spieth did cough up three bogeys and a double bogey over his final 15 holes Saturday after he signed for only one bogey in Rounds 1 and 2. He did buckle at the knees after his tentative stroke for a 5 at the par-4 17th rimmed out and gave Rose and Mickelson some reason to believe that Sunday could belong to them.
Eleven players have come from behind to win the Masters by erasing a deficit of four or more shots. Why wouldn't Spieth, playing in only his second Masters, represent Victim No. 12? Why wouldn't he fail to win the green jacket the way he failed last year when he never seriously challenged Bubba Watson down the stretch?
"We've been there," said Greller. "We've got a four-shot lead, and that's a lot different than being tied. It's not our first time at the rodeo. ... We've been under that stress. He shot even par [in the final round] last year, which is nothing to beat yourself up too much over.
"We've been in a lot of battles, certainly the Ryder Cup, four playoffs, the Presidents Cup. This will be our fourth straight Sunday in the last pairing. So we've been under that microscope."
In other words, don't expect Jordan Spieth to crack.
"He steps up to every putt and thinks it's going in," Greller said.
Like the putt at the 18th Saturday, the tricky 6-footer he positively had to have after making such an ungodly mess of the previous hole. Frustrated to the max, Spieth had left his approach shot in a perilous place to the right side of the green, forcing him to try a full flop over a bunker's edge he wouldn't have been caught dead trying 18 months ago.
He pulled it off, and then credited Greller for the most important read of the day. "It was one of the bigger putts I've ever hit," Spieth said. The up-and-down save, he figured, was a one-in-five proposition.
"That just took some guts," Spieth said. Yeah, in case you haven't noticed, this kid has plenty of guts, and plenty of something else too. He has played the first three rounds of the Masters like no man dead or alive, Tiger Woods included. Spieth's 16-under total is one stroke better than the 54-hole score posted by a 21-year-old Woods in 1997, when Colin Montgomerie, the challenger hammered by Tiger in the third round (he punished Monty for trash-talking him the day before) famously reviewed the nine-shot lead and declared the tournament over.
When reminded that Greg Norman had blown a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo the year before, Montgomerie said, "This is very different. Faldo's not lying second, for a start. And Greg Norman's not Tiger Woods."
Jordan Spieth isn't Tiger Woods, either, and he doesn't have the same kind of margin for error. But still, he's a no-doubt-about-it prodigy who has won on tour and who has already experienced the final-group madness of the Masters. He didn't melt as a Sunday newbie, by the way. He made a couple of mistakes before the turn and shot a respectable 72.
"Jordan's come a long, long way from last year," said his mother, Chris Spieth.
"When he has nerves, usually that motivates him in a very positive way," Greller said. "I remember that all the way back to the U.S. Junior [Amateur], when the cameras came out. He's able to channel those nerves in a good way."
And yes, he'll need to do a lot of channeling to get this thing to the house. Mickelson was actually rooting for Rose to make the birdie he made at 18 Saturday to demote Lefty to Sunday's penultimate pairing with Charley Hoffman, and for this reason:
"I think it's much more difficult to follow than it is to lead," Mickelson said.
In other words, the three-time Masters winner wants Spieth to watch from the rear as he drains the kind of absurd putt he drained at 16, a putt he said he stole out of the Jack Nicklaus/Tom Watson playbook from 1991. "I remember being up in the clubhouse," said Mickelson, who was a Masters rookie and amateur then, "and feeling the ground reverberate from the roar."
On Sunday, Mickelson wants to make the earth shake beneath Spieth's spikes. To run down the leader Lefty will need something beyond the pink shirt he wore Saturday as a tribute to Arnold Palmer, the patron saint of all those fixing to charge hard from the rear. Mickelson's longtime caddie, Bones Mackay, was willing to explain why.
"I think he's incredible at everything," Mackay said of Spieth. "I think the best way to put it, there's nobody out here with a higher golf IQ than Jordan, and for him to have that at 21 is a joke. I love everything about him. I think the sky's the limit ... I think he's going to have a massive career."
And chances are, that massive career starts right now, with these final 18 holes at Augusta National. Spieth is most comfortable with his putting and ball striking. His caddie is most comfortable with the local knowledge he's secured in scouting sessions with Ben Crenshaw's caddie, Carl Jackson, who spent 45 minutes with Greller breaking down every twist and turn in every hole and reminding him to trust his instincts and take deep breaths when the going gets tough.
"It was like sitting down with Michael Jordan and going over the NBA Finals," Greller said.
Truth is, there's no doubting the identity of the superstar on the court this week. Golf is a wild and crazy game, so there's no guaranteeing anything about the final round of the Masters ... other than the fact the pairing of Woods and McIlroy will seem a lot more relevant than the scoreboard suggests it should be.
Maybe Spieth's friendly bounces will suddenly turn hostile. Maybe Mickelson and Rose will flex their major muscles, and maybe the kid with the big lead will end up looking a lot less satisfied with his second-place finish than he looked last April.
But three days' worth of evidence point to one fairly likely verdict. So if you're looking for Jordan Spieth to pull a McIlroy from 2011, or a Norman from 1996, here's a tip:
Don't bet on it.