Tiger stalks stellar leading group in Masters 3rd round
AUGUSTA – Tiger Woods headed into the third round of the Masters on Saturday chasing a gold standard gaggle of leaders all out to add to their major championship resumes.
Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen shared the 36-hole lead on seven-under par 137.
Together they own seven Grand Slam titles an impressive total but still just half of Woods's 14. And it was the US superstar's push toward the top, with four birdies in his last 10 holes, that had the crowds roaring at Augusta National on Friday.
"It's good stuff," said Woods, who claimed the last of his majors at the 2008 US Open and the most recent of four Masters crowns in 2005.
The 43-year-old headed a list of four players on six-under 138, a group that included another major winner in Dustin Johnson.
The odd men out among the top nine were South African Justin Harding, this year's Qatar Masters winner who is making his Masters debut, and American Xander Schauffele, the 2017 US PGA Tour Rookie of the Year who has no major on his resume but does count an elite WGC win among his four tour titles.
"I think it's going to be an incredible weekend," said Scott, the 2013 Masters champion who played the par-5s in four-under on Friday on the way to a four-under 68.
Reigning British Open champion Molinari and 2015 PGA Championship winner Jason Day both posted 67s.
Koepka, the two-time reigning US Open and PGA Champion who shared the 18-hole lead with Bryson DeChambeau, endured "atrocious" putting but showed his resilience in a second-round 71.
The single-minded American was likely to have no trouble setting aside that rocky round, just as he wasn't one to be intimidated by the wealth of talent at the top.
"Just because it's a major on a Saturday, I'm not going to go out and do anything different," he said. "Nothing changes. I'm not thinking about, 'Man, if I make birdie here this is going to happen.'
"I think that's when you feel pressure, when you start thinking about results."
Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion who lost to Bubba Watson in a playoff at the 2012 Masters, had the lowest round of all the leaders with a six-under 66.
His goal for Saturday was "a decent, solid round."
"This golf course, you win it on the back nine on Sunday," he said. "We've seen over the years anything can happen on the back nine."
Whether that drama will unfold smoothly remains to be seen, with severe weather predicted for crunch time on Sunday afternoon.
In the meantime, the week's wet weather may be a boon, Woods said, taking some of the fire out of Augusta's notorious greens.
"We were able to stop six-irons and five-irons," he said. "That's something that you don't normally see here."
- Mickelson in the mix -
With so much star-power at the top of the leaderboard, it was easy to overlook the fact that plenty of marquee names weren't too far back.
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson was just three adrift after a second-round 73.
"There's nothing better than having a chance going into the weekend at the Masters," said the American, who at 48 could become the oldest major champion in history with a win. "That's what I want to focus on and I know that I'm playing well enough."
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, seven back on even par 144, was hoping for a "decent start" on Saturday to play his way back into contention.
"I don't feel like I'm that far away," he said.