Miracle Man Woods Poised to Complete Remarkable Comeback
ON A day of days, Francesco Molinari, the Open champion, recorded a round of 66 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of The Masters at Augusta National. And one of the two men lurking behind him is 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, looking to claim his first Green Jacket in 14 years.
Woods is tied with Tony Finau, one of three players to shoot 64 - a feat never achieved in Masters history. Woods had the patrons on their feet throughout a dramatic day as he bids to complete the greatest comeback in sport, but he knows that he will have his work cut out today if he is to end a major drought that stretches back to the 2008 US Open.
Molinari recorded four successive birdies as he moved to 13 under par. Woods had a five-under 67. Three-time major winner Brooks Koepka is a shot further back after a 69, while England's Ian Poulter carded a 68 to remain in the hunt at nine under.
Tee times for today's final round have been brought forward because of anticipated thunderstorms.
Molinari went quietly about his business, making two birdies on the first nine, and a run of four from the 12th on the second nine. The roars were appreciative, rather than loud.
Incredibly, the 36-year-old Italian has now gone 43 holes without dropping a shot. He did not make a bogey in his final 37 holes when he won The Open at Carnoustie last July. He played with Woods in the final round there but playing with Woods at Augusta, even with a two-shot start, will be a very different challenge.
Molinari, who also beat Woods three times alongside Tommy Fleetwood in the 2018 Ryder Cup, said: "I wish I only had to worry about him but there are a few more that are going to try to shoot a low round so it's going to be exciting. I played slightly better on Friday but mentally I was very good.
"There were two big putts on four and five to save pars and I played the back nine as well as I've played it. And then there was a good par save on 18, it was nice to keep another clean scorecard."
Woods parred the first four holes before dropping a shot at the newly-extended par-four fifth for the third day running. However, three birdies at the next three holes got the 14-time major winner, and the patrons, interested. The roar that greeted his next birdie at the par-five 13th echoed across the course.
Patrons were still streaming down the hill on the 15th when he holed a short birdie putt, after a deft chip from the back of the green. The volume that greeted that rose a further notch. He then struck a glorious tee-shot at the par-three 16th. They say there is no roar like a Tiger roar at Augusta. And the one that followed his tap-in birdie at 16 reverberated around the Georgia pines. Nobody on the course could have missed that one.
This is the fifth time Woods has shot 205 or fewer after three rounds at the Masters. He won the previous four.
Woods said he gave himself a talking to between the fifth green and sixth tee. "It was simple," he explained. "Just be patient and let the round build. The goal was to make sure I got to double digits and I did that. It's been a while since I've been in contention here, but then again the last two majors counts for something," said Woods, who briefly led on the final day of the 2018 Open and finished runner-up to Koepka in the 2018 US PGA Championship.
"And tomorrow it will be interesting to see if that wind comes up like it's forecast, 15, 20 miles an hour around this golf course is going to be testy."
They will be joined by Finau in the final group. The 29-year-old American finished joint 10th last year despite dislocating his ankle when celebrating a hole-in-one during the par-three contest. There were no such exuberant celebrations on Saturday, despite opening his round with three successive birdies. Another birdie followed on the sixth before an eagle on the eighth took him right into the mix on nine under.
He narrowly missed a birdie putt on the ninth that was to set a new record of 29 strokes for the first nine. And like many, he took advantage of the two par fives on the second nine to improve his score to 11 under, on a day of hot sun, light wind and low scoring all round. The 65 players to make the cut scored a cumulative 80 under par, which is thought to be the lowest scoring on a single day at The Masters.
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