AUGUSTA, Ga. - Tiger Woods getting into the final group at the Masters made it feel like a typical Saturday at Augusta National.
Nothing else did.
Not Woods finishing bogey-bogey, only to charge up the leaderboard while on the practice range. Not a scoreboard that showed no survivors to par for the first time in history. And certainly not a wind chill factor that never climbed higher than 47 degrees.
They might hand out a green parka, not a green jacket.
Stuart Appleby emerged as the leader despite a triple bogey on the 17th hole with a tee shot into the bunker guarding the seventh green, a wedge into a bunker on the hole he was playing and three putts. Compared with other train wrecks, that was tame.
He wound up with a 1-over 73 and in the final group with a familiar name, who got there in the strangest fashion. Those two bogeys gave Woods a 72, the first time in 11 trips to Augusta National as a pro that he has played three rounds without breaking par.
"There's a lot - a lot - of work left," Appleby said. "There's 18 holes but, to be honest, it's way more than that."
There was plenty Saturday, the highest- scoring third round since 1956. The average score was 77.35, the highest day at Augusta National since it switched to Bentgrass greens in 1981. That's assuming it was grass - and not glass - on those greens.
Retief Goosen was the only player to break par, a 70 that moved him from last place into a tie for eighth. A dozen players failed to break 80. That included U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, who was in the top 10 and making a charge until he twice hit wedge into the water on the 15th for a quadruple-bogey 9. He followed that with three straight bogeys for an 81.
The only suspense was watching Woods move closer to a fifth green jacket, a task made easier by late-afternoon collapses.
Appleby was at 2-over 218, the highest 54-hole lead ever at the Masters. He had a simple explanation for his triple bogey, and he might as well have been speaking for everyone.
"That's golf. That's Augusta," he said. "It was a tough opponent. And it will be a tough opponent tomorrow."
Another battle figures to come from the guy playing alongside him.
Woods has never lost a major when playing in the final group, although he has always had at least a share of the lead. History is on his side, too. The winner at the Masters has come out of the final group every year since Nick Faldo won in 1990.
Woods was playing one his finest rounds in the toughest conditions until a tee shot into the trees cost him a bogey on the 17th. Then he came up well short of the 18th green when the wind tricked him.
"I hung in there as best I could," Woods said. "I blew it at the end and made two careless bogeys the last two holes. Overall, I've improved my position. As of right now, I'm only four back, and not a lot of guys between myself and the lead."
His position improved dramatically over the final 90 minutes of a harrowing day at the Masters.
Jerry Kelly was at 2 over until he took double bogey from the front of the 14th green, then rinsed one in the pond short of the 15th green for another bogey. Justin Rose got shaky with the short game, lipping out a 3Â½-foot par putt on the 16th, hitting a simple chip too hard from behind the 17th green and leaving himself a 4-foot putt that caught the left edge.
Vaughn Taylor, who grew up in Augusta, missed a 5-footer for par on the 16th, the start of a bogey-bogey-bogey finish.
"There is no par out there," Zach Johnson said after a three-putt bogey on the 16th sent him to a 77. "Who's to say 72 is par?"
Each mistake moved Woods closer to the top until there was no one between him and the green jacket except Appleby, who is trying to become the first Australian to win one.
"He has more experience than what's left of this field put together," Appleby said.
Indeed, of the half-dozen players behind Appleby, Woods is the only one with a major. But as crazy as the third round was - and there's no reason to believe today will be any different - this Masters remains ripe with possibilities.
Padraig Harrington of Ireland took double bogey on the 15th and shot 75 and was at 4-over 220, along with Taylor (77) and Johnson (76). Bradley Dredge of Wales was another shot back after a 76.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson was only four shots behind and tied for eighth. He finished nearly three hours ahead of the leaders with a 73 that put him at 6-over 222, finally emerged from the scoring hut and sounded like a prophet.
"I know over par is going to be the winning score," Mickelson said.
Tied with Mickelson was a collection of major champions - Goosen, Jim Furyk and David Toms.
Second-round co-leaders Tim Clark and Brett Wetterich, in the last group, were forgotten figures by the end of the day with scores of 80 and 83.
Woods also finished bogey-bogey on Thursday to waste a good round, and he was even more surly Saturday when asked on television if he had the same feelings. "Yeah, and then some," he replied.
But he can't complain about where he is now, with a chance to win his third consecutive major.
Springtime in Augusta meant breaking out ski caps and mittens. Then came gusts of nearly 25 mph, swirling around Amen Corner, leaving the 60 players hanging on for dear life.
Through it all, Woods played a remarkable round. He kept bogeys off his card through 11 holes that sent him soaring up the leaderboard. But it all went to waste - or so he thought - on the last two holes.
He drove left into the trees on the 17th and tried to carve an 8-iron around the seventh green, bending it back into play. It caught the bunker, and the best he could do was hit out to 20 feet. Woods was in good shape on the 18th until the wind switched and left him well short of the green, and he missed a 10-footer for par.
Then came his best move of the day - leaving the course, safe from any further damage.
Appleby opened strong, capping three straight birdies with a tee shot right over the flag to 10 feet on the par-3 fourth. Equally impressive was that he held it together for so long, dropping only one shot over the next 12 holes until the 17th.
There was no escape for anyone. Even Goosen's brilliant round ended with a bogey.
"We all are struggling in it together," Woods said. "You just have to get by."
comments powered by Disqus