Photos: Day three from Augusta – The Register-Guard

Photos: Day three from Augusta - The Register-Guard
Sunday at the Masters set up for epic finish
In an effort to avoid dangerous weather that is supposed to sweep through Georgia on Sunday afternoon, the Masters altered its traditional final-round format.

Competition will now begin at 7:30 a.m. ET and feature threesomes rather than pairings (the first time thats ever happened in a final round here). Groups will start from both the first and ninth tee (those in contention will go from one and finish on 18, per usual). The leaders are expected to tee off at 9:20 a.m. CBSs broadcast will begin at 9.

“I made a sloppy bogey on 6 and I just kind of had a talk with myself going back to 7 tee thinking about all my bad shots this week have been just some poor thinking and not being really committed to what I decided to do,” Simpson said. “And I just said hey, if you stay fully committed the rest of the day, youre swinging great, youre putting well, youre going to make birdies and thats what I did.”

That final grouping will include Tiger, who shot a 67 on a hot, muggy Saturday afternoon to come in at 11-under. Hell join leader Francesco Molinari (13-under) and Tony Finau, who stroked a 64, one short of the course record, to also finish at 11-under.

“The mindset is just, tomorrows going to be a tough day, so thats the beauty of it is that a lot of people are going to have a shot because I mean right now if we played tomorrow, I saw 17 miles an hour wind, rain, and so youre talking about the golf course changing completely. And then pressure on top of that,” Watson said.

Tiger has won 14 major championships, including four Masters. Hes never won any of them when he wasnt in the final group on Sunday. In this case, thats a weather-related bonus (if it was a pairing, hed have been the second-to-last group due to when he finished on Saturday), not that it really matters.

Its always a great tournament whenever Tiger is in the mix, and hes 100 percent in the mix right now, Finau said. Its going to be a Masters to remember, I know that for sure.

The entire scene on Sunday should be incredible, a complete free-for-all with a star-studded leaderboard. Saturday was a brilliant day of golf, with 10 different players, including Tiger, holding at least a share of the lead at some point. Finau was one of just three 64s, and that group includes Webb Simpson, who pushed his way to 9-under and in contention.

Tiger grinded his round out, six birdies and just one bogey as he played mostly error-free golf to the delight of his typical monster gallery. At this point, Tiger is something akin to a traveling circus, waves and waves of fans spreading out across multiple holes in an effort to watch him play and cheer him on. This isnt just polite golf cheers, this is loud and bold, thousands pleading and pushing him on to something that no one was certain would ever be possible again.

“Its good. Today was 145 yards, so its a perfect little soft wedge into 12. And again like I said, it was no wind. So you could, you knew what it was going to do. So I hit it in there close, made the putt,” Watson said.

At age 43, Tigers career has been derailed multiple times with injuries, personal foibles, legal issues and so on. He didnt even play in three of the last five Masters and famously hasnt won a major since 2008.

As he strolled up 18 Saturday, the moment was lost on no one – not the roaring fans and not even Tiger himself. He seemed to bask in the cheers rolling down the hill and into the fairway as he smiled widely and repeatedly acknowledged the crowd.

“Its been a while since Ive been in contention here,” Tiger said. “But then again, the last two majors count for something. Ive been in the mix … so that helps.”

Webb Simpson entered the day at one under, so forgive yourself if you werent paying attention to him until Saturday when he took off like a geyser after four birdies from holes No. 7 to 10.

To make Sunday truly magical, planting his name alongside Jack Nicklaus here in 1986 for late-career improbable Masters glory, Woods is going to have to earn it. Hes never won a major when he didnt lead after 54 holes and Molinari was showing no signs of fading. Meanwhile, a dream pack of contenders is right there ready to charge.

Five of the top seven on the leaderboard have won majors (Molinari, Woods, Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson). Finau, meanwhile, just carded a 64, and Ian Poulter is considered one of the best players in the world to not have a major.

Players will be grouped in threesomes with tee times scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. off the Nos. 1 and 10 tees in Augusta. The leaders will tee off at 9:20 a.m. 

All eyes will be on Woods, though. How can they not be? His game was unexpectedly resurrected last summer when he contended for both the British Open and PGA Championship. The Masters has always been his playground, though, and even fellow golfers are excited with the prospect of Tiger, wearing his signature red, back at Augusta National with a chance to win.

Oh, man, it would be an unbelievable thing for me, and something that Ive dreamed of for a long time, Finau said of getting to play in a final group with Tiger. As a kid, I always wanted to compete against him and have the opportunity. … Ive dreamed of playing in the final group with him in a major championship.

With pending severe weather conditions, the tee times for Sunday’s final round of the Masters have been moved up. 

Thats going to happen. Earlier than normal, with an unusual setup played against the pending rain and storms.

The weather is supposed to get Biblical on Sunday afternoon around here, so Sunday morning service at Augusta is set.

Augusta National will release the tax returns of all its members before it lets anyone know how many Masters badges it has sold. Suffice to say, it’s a gracious plenty. And the competition for a decent view of an important golfer is fierce. NBA power forwards have no problem seeing every putt. Everyone else has to scramble.   

One morning more than a year and a half ago I dropped off my daughter at Wilson Middle School, as I do every day, and walked into one of my favorite shops to get this fateful cup of coffee.

Amen Corner is every bit the slice of heaven it is portrayed to be, a lovely expanse of a couple of terrifying holes. But on the spectators’ side, this rainy year has rendered the walkway a muddy, mucky mess. Bring back long hair and tie-dye, and you’ve got a little Woodstock.

As I waited, the woman next to me had several newspapers on the counter in front of her. One of the headlines grabbed my attention and I leaned in to steal a read.

She caught me and said I was free to take the section. We talked about the story and then another story and so on.

They’ll not mention it on the telecast – oh, how I long to hear Jim Nantz use the phrase, “a smell of cow poop unlike any other” – but there are sections of the course that literally stink. It’s a dirty little secret of the Masters.

We said nice to meet you and learned each other’s names (though she wants to keep her name anonymous for this story). We said maybe we’ll see each other again at the coffee shop.

They can’t do anything about the weather around here – not yet, anyway – and the wetness has contributed to some issues you don’t hear about in most Masters essays.   

For the next few months, we met once or twice a week, always unplanned, and discussed everything from raising kids, to the newspaper industry, to breakfast sandwiches.

“This is really stacked,” Adam Scott said at the end of Friday’s second round. And he could have been speaking about either his competition or his audience.  

I told her I loved golf, a game I shared with my father and friends and a beloved teacher for most of my life. I told her when the Masters was on television I watched every minute and over the years I learned every hole like the back of my hand, but only in the sense of the television coverage. I said it was a dream of mine to see the course in person but I never thought that would happen because it takes years to get a ticket through the lottery and then, of course, there was the expense of going, which probably took me out the mix anyway.

She listened and nodded. She also loved the Masters because her husband was a long-time member of Augusta National Golf Club and every year she shared the PGA event with him.

Headline on the comic web site, The Onion: “Tangled Pulsing Mass of Visors, Polos and Khaki Shorts Lurches Over Hill To Next Masters Hole.” It was only partial satire.

I knew the numbers. Augusta National has a membership of about 300, including some of the most influential people on earth. Membership is by invitation only and there is no application process. Exclusive? Exclusive doesn’t cut it.

Then she told me she couldn’t bear to go Augusta National any longer. Her husband died several years ago and the one time she went without him it hurt so much because she kept looking up and expecting to see him come around the corner to meet her.

She explained that because of her husband’s membership she still has access to tickets. She said all we had to do was have a few unplanned meetings through the next year and continue to discuss the daily news over cups of coffee.

I asked why she felt compelled to give me this gift, and she said she saw in me how much I appreciated the Masters. “I want to honor my husband’s memory by sharing it with you.”

This week I drove more than an hour and a half, each way, for three days, to Augusta National, because I couldn’t find a hotel any closer that I could afford.

Each day I stood and watched live shots at Amen Corner. I walked down the steep hill of the par-4, 495-yard No. 10 hole named Camelia (way steeper than it is on television). I marveled at tee shots sailing at me, standing behind the fairway bunker on the par-4 No. 18 hole named Holly. I sat in the stands behind the practice tee lined with players. I saw Phil Mickelson nearly ace the par-3 No. 16 hole named Redbud.

I ate, and I’m not kidding, 16 “Masters sandwiches” (including four famous pimento cheese and four egg salad). I applauded the lightning speed of the concession stands (Disney World should take a page from the Masters’ concession-stand playbook). I stopped between tee shots and listened to birds chirping, behind the banks of blooming azaleas and the gurgling of Rae’s Creek.

Sometimes you see things on television, then visit and they don’t hold up to your expectations.

There were moments I stood beside a green, looking at the place, and tears welled. It would come over me all of the sudden.

Was it because I thought I’d never see it in person? Was it because it was so perfect? Or because it was given to me in a beautiful, perfect gesture?

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