AUGUSTA — Russell Henley recognized the tricky pin placement the moment he stepped onto the 16th tee box Saturday.
“I know there’s room right,” the Charleston resident said to veteran caddy Adam Hayes.
Ah, but Henley was seduced by the beautiful expanse of green on the left side of one of Augusta National’s famous par 3 holes. He programmed his 9-iron for a logically safe landing.
Gotcha. The ball hit within 10 feet of the pin, trickled 40 feet left. A birdie opportunity became another par in Henley’s even round of 72.
Like a golf ball on a slick surface, Henley was just another South Carolina guy at the Masters rolling away from extraordinary 21-year-old leader Jordan Spieth.
Columbia native Dustin Johnson finished with back-to-back bogeys and a 73 on Saturday. He’s 10 shots off the lead.
Greenville’s Bill Haas, 32, tumbled to 12 shots behind with a 72.
“This course can bite you; there are no easy holes,” said Johnson, 30. “But if (Spieth) keeps playing like he’s playing right now, it’s going to be tough to catch him.”
Johnson came to the Masters a lot while developing his phenomenal golf game at Irmo and White Knoll high schools.
Henley grew up in Macon, played at the University of Georgia and knew his way around the back nine before playing his first Masters in 2013.
Haas, a former Wake Forest All-American, watched his father Jay play at Augusta.
But with rare exceptions — Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods — it was no tranquil Saturday of sweet tea and pimento cheese sandwiches chasing Spieth through pines and azaleas.
“I’m in a position now where (Sunday) is not going to make a big difference,” Henley said. “If I shoot 10-under, 10-over, whatever. But I want to try to be more aggressive if I get the chance.”
Johnson is playing superbly and enjoying the company of his brother, former Charleston Southern basketball player Austin Johnson, on the bag.
But he lost three more shots to Spieth.
At least Johnson is in good shape to get his first Masters top 10 finish.
That goes well with a career that includes nine tour victories, and a very disturbing 2014. Johnson missed the cut last year for the first time in five Masters appearances, and then things got worse. It’s never good when a golfer’s last name is included in the same headline with “cocaine issue.”
In January, the former Coastal Carolina All-American denied a Golf.com report that his absence from the tour last summer was a suspension following a failed PGA drug test (the PGA also denied the report).
Johnson admitted to drinking and partying problems, which he said he addressed with a self-designed program.
Something is working. Johnson is No. 6 in the FedEx Cup standings, thanks in part to winning the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral last month.
A new son seems to be part of a new maturity. Paulina Gretzky, daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Tatum, in January. Johnson has credited Wayne Gretzky with patient mentoring, and Dustin and Paulina have spent most of the last several months living near her parents north of Los Angeles.
The whole extended family has been on hand this week, and they saw Johnson set a Masters single-round record Friday with three eagles.
But all three South Carolina players have gone from contending to looking for respectable spots on the final leaderboard.
“I played pretty good,” said Henley, who turns 26 on Sunday. “I left a couple out there, for sure, but I still hit it great. I feel like I made a lot of good decisions. A couple more putts fall on the back and I have a pretty nice round. I hung in there pretty good.”
Same with Johnson and Haas.
And yet Paul Casey put it best after shooting 74 to fall into a tie for 10th place while playing with the hard-charging Mickelson.
“Good for Phil,” the Englishman said. “But nothing is fazing Jordan, so it probably doesn’t matter.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff