Tiger Woods poised to make Sunday charge
There wasn’t a lot for Tiger Woods to smile about on this day, when even his best shots weren’t always good enough and almost every putt seemed to just graze the edge of the hole.
By the time he walked out of the scorer’s shack, the easiest 68 Augusta National will ever serve up was his, though he couldn’t stop talking about how much better it could have been.
Just about then, the wind started picking up a bit and Woods looked around at the top of the towering pines. He knew the people ahead of him were still on the course, and that tomorrow would likely bring strong winds and possible havoc.
It was just enough to make him smile in anticipation of what might be instead of worrying about what might have been.
“I’ve been around here, I played under these tough conditions here before,” Woods said. “It’s been blustery here before.”
Indeed it has, because weather is the one thing even the denizens of Augusta National can’t control. Even on this day they got rain that softened the course so much that par was a score to be sneered at, and the number Woods posted didn’t exactly strike fear in the likes of Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker.
It was the first time in the last 12 rounds that Woods broke 70 in the Masters, but all it did was inch him from seven shots off the lead to six. This round might have hurt him more than any of his relatively pedestrian efforts since winning his fourth green jacket three years ago.
It could easily have been a 65. It should easily have been a 66. It wasn’t. And when Immelman and Snedeker closed with birdies on a brilliant course muted by gray skies it wasn’t enough to improve Woods’ chances.
This wasn’t the way the Masters was supposed to go for Woods, who came here as the most lopsided favorite ever to win the first major of the year. The world’s greatest player was going to beat Augusta National to a pulp and, in the off chance he didn’t, his fellow competitors were going to help out by laying down for him.
Relying on an act of God had to be far down the list of possible winning scenarios he and caddie Stevie Williams drew up earlier in the week.
“You know that anything can happen, especially around that corner with the wind, if the wind’s blowing all over the place,” Woods said.
This came 90 minutes before the leaders would finish, and Woods was grasping for anything positive he could salvage from a round that almost was. There was still a chance Immelman could hit it in the pond on No. 15, as he very nearly did, and every chance that Snedeker couldn’t recover from his mini collapse in Amen Corner.
It didn’t quite work out that way. When Woods dons his traditional red shirt Sunday morning it will be with the realization he is not only six shots back of Immelman, but that three other players occupy slots between the two.
History doesn’t favor Woods in this scenario.
He’s won 13 major championships, but has never come from behind in the final round. He’s won 64 tournaments on the PGA Tour, but never rallied from more than five shots down in the last round.
After each round this week, Woods talked about how he’s still close and still in contention. That was the same mantra he offered up behind the 18th green on Saturday, but he had to be wondering just how it would all play out in his favor.
He played about as well as he could in the third round, finishing with spectacular shots to make a gimme birdie on No. 17 and save par on the finishing hole. And he kept moving up on the leaderboard, something that usually causes those in front of him to contemplate throwing up or throwing in the towel.
But a funny thing happened on this rainy day in Georgia. Even with Woods making a move in front of them, most held on to their stomachs and their games.
Of course, this was Saturday, not Sunday. Woods could be 10 shots back on the final day and the leaders would still be popping Prevacid.
“To sit here and say we are not going to be thinking about Tiger Woods tomorrow is crazy because we are, just like everybody else in this room is and just like everybody else in this world is,” Snedeker said. “We’re human, what can we say.”
So is Woods, though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. Give him four more rounds to make up the deficit and his chances would be good, but he’s got only 18 holes left.
That might be impossible even for a player used to doing the impossible.
Now it comes down to howling wind or the collapse of four world-class players if Woods is to still have a chance of becoming the first player of the modern era to win the Grand Slam. That’s what he brashly—and uncharacteristically—talked about doing earlier this year.
It can still happen, but it might take a perfect storm of epic proportions to make it happen.
In a way, that’s a shame. Woods running the table in the major championships this year would have been one of the greatest sports stories ever, and this is a time when we could sorely use a great story.
Now it’s about to end even before Woods gave it a chance to begin.