The nation's attention was there for the taking.

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, two of the best golfers in the world, were set to do battle on the sport's most hallowed ground Saturday in -- if everything went right -- an enthralling prelude to an ultimate Sunday showdown that would have everyone with an athletic bone in their body tuning in to see who would take home the green jacket.

But instead of watching golf on Sunday afternoon, we'll probably just waiting for the Warriors-Spurs game to start.

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There will be no Sunday showdown -- the prelude turned out to be a dud. It was Star Wars-Episode 1 bad. The worst showdown since Batman v Superman.

Spieth shot a mercurial 73 that featured two double-bogeys, bringing him back towards the pack. But McIlroy was not there to take advantage of the slips -- he was slipping himself.

Slipping might be underselling it. The former world No.1 imploded Saturday, shooting an uneasy, birdie-free 77. The last word that came to mind when watching it was "greatness."

The two young guns should have pushed each other. Instead, they compared self-inflicted wounds for 18 holes.

Spieth will enter Sunday's final round with a one-shot lead, but he'll be playing in the final pairing with Smylie Kaufman, a Masters rookie who -- I kid you not -- was asked by CBS' Jim Nantz if he owned a car. 

This is not the duel golf needed. This is not the fierce pairing that the fans wanted.

The older fans of the game will find some intrigue in 58-year-old Bernhard Langer, who is improbably two shots back of the lead after a minus-2 round Saturday. But the Champions Tour Bavarian isn't a proper foe for Spieth. That's not a fair fight.

Jason Day and Dustin Johnson could give Spieth a go -- they're three back heading into the final round -- but they won't be able to create the final-round drama that glues the casual fan to their TV set playing two groups ahead of Spieth and the 24-year-old who still lives with his parents.

Golf needed a bonafide rivalry to help it move out of Tiger Woods' shadow,and Saturday, a tremendous, couldn't-make-it-up opportunity for that rivalry to develop presented itself. But instead of a Sunday at Augusta featuring two fierce, elite competitors going back-and-forth, battling it out like it was match play, we'll get Spieth against a course he can beat with conservative play.

The opportunity to create a competition that transcends the sport doesn't come around often, and Saturday it was unquestionably squandered. It's a shame.

So instead of a must-see showdown, we'll have a second-rate Sunday that will in all likelihood have a first-rate champion parring his way to a title while, meanwhile, we all flip the channel.