He wore a mock turtle, but there was nothing fake about Tiger Woods’s play in the third round of this 83rd US Masters tournament. Call him the GOAT, or the big cat. Whatever you want, for this was vintage Woods as the 14-times Major champion emerged as a genuine challenger to 54-hole leader Francesco Molinari , the Italian iceman who stayed cool and calm to plot his way to the top.
On a day of remarkable scoring, sizzling even, three players – Tony Finau , Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay – shot tournament low rounds of 64 but it was Woods’s 67, for 11-under-par 205, that had him fist-pumping with caddie Joe LaCava and which brought seismic roars around the famous course.
Molinari, who has avoided a bogey since the 11th hole of his opening round on Thursday, remained unflappable as he went about his business. The roars which greeted his efforts were loud, just that those ahead of him, especially whenever Woods worked his magic, were louder.
But it was Molinari who claimed the outright lead on his own, a 67 for 13-under-par 203 giving him a two-shot lead over Finau and Woods with Brooks Kopeka a shot further back.
That trio of Molinari, Finau and Woods will make up the last three-ball of a final round which has been pushed forward – with two tee starts – in an attempt to avoid a weather front with thunderstorms that is scheduled to hit the Augusta area on Sunday afternoon. It is expected that players will have to negotiate winds of up to 20 miles an hour before that front actually arrives, with the leaders teeing off at 9.20am local time (2.20pm Irish time).
Molinari made four successive birdies from the 12th to the 15th to put his grip on the tournament, and this latest joust with Woods has similarities with last year’s British Open at Carnoustie, where the Italian won out.
“I just try to do my best on every shot. Today we did well strategy-wise, holed some good putts. It is going to be an exciting day [on Sunday] . . .. obviously Tiger’s is playing great, but there’s a lot of guys playing great. I wish I only had to worry about him but there are a lot of other guys in it,” said Molinari.
Molinari, who went bogey-free over the final two rounds in winning the Claret Jug last year, has re-enacted that solid play here in his quest to add the green jacket to his collection.
Woods, without a Major title since his US Open triumph in 2008 and whose last of four Masters wins was back in 2005, strode the fairways like a man rejuvenated. Three birdies on the homeward run, at the 13th, 15th and 16th, galvanised his charge.
“I drove it well, I hit my irons well and I made some putts. I don’t need to go after every single flag, just put the ball in the correct spots so I can have gettable looks and gettable putts. I was able to do that, tried to keep the ball below the hole as best as I could,” said Woods of his strategy in getting into contention.
He added: “It’s been a while since I was in contention here. But the last two Majors [contending in the British Open and thee US PGA last year] counts for something . . . last year as a step in the right direction and I built a season around that and here we are. Pressure? I always feel pressure. The day I don’t feel pressure is the day I quit.”
USA unless stated, par 72, (a) denotes amateurs
203 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 70 67 66
205 Tony Finau 71 70 64, Tiger Woods 70 68 67
206 Brooks Koepka 66 71 69
207 Ian Poulter (Eng) 68 71 68, Webb Simpson 72 71 64
208 Dustin Johnson 68 70 70, Justin Harding (RSA) 69 69 70, Xander Schauffele 73 65 70, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 71 66 71, Matt Kuchar 71 69 68
209 Adam Scott (Aus) 69 68 72, Rickie Fowler 70 71 68
210 Jason Day (Aus) 70 67 73, Phil Mickelson 67 73 70, Justin Thomas 73 68 69, Jon Rahm (Esp) 69 70 71, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 71 71 68, Patrick Cantlay 73 73 64
211 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) 70 72 69, Bubba Watson 72 72 67
212 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 71 71 70, Corey Conners (Can) 70 71 71, Jordan Spieth 75 68 69
213 Cameron Smith (Aus) 70 74 69, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 75 70 68, Patton Kizzire 70 70 73, Kevin Tway 72 71 70, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 78 67 68, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 74 72 67
214 Charley Hoffman 71 71 72, Kyle Stanley 72 72 70, (a) Viktor Hovland (Nor) 72 71 71, Marc Leishman (Aus) 72 72 70, Aaron Wise 75 71 68, Bryson DeChambeau 66 75 73, Kevin Kisner 69 73 72, Si Woo Kim (Kor) 72 72 70
215 Keegan Bradley 76 68 71, Rory McIlroy (N Irl) 73 71 71, Gary Woodland 70 71 74, (a) Takumi Kanaya (Jpn) 73 74 68
216 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 69 72 75, J.B. Holmes 70 72 74, Jimmy Walker 72 72 72, Charles Howell III 73 67 76
217 Kevin Na 71 73 73, (a) Alvaro Ortiz (Mex) 73 71 73, Patrick Reed 73 70 74
218 Bernhard Langer (Ger) 71 72 75, Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn) 75 70 73, (a) Devon Bling 74 73 71, Andrew Landry 72 73 73, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 73 73 72, Keith Mitchell 72 74 72, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 73 70 75
219 Haotong Li (Chn) 72 74 73, Branden Grace (RSA) 72 75 72, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 73 74 72, Eddie Pepperell (Eng) 74 73 72
220 Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 72 75 73, Zach Johnson 74 73 73
221 Trevor Immelman (Rsa) 74 72 75, Billy Horschel 72 75 74
222 Alex Noren (Swe) 75 72 75
FINAL ROUND TEE-TIMES
(all times Irish)
Starting at 1st hole
12.30pm: Aaron Wise, Marc Leishman (Aus), Si Woo Kim (Kor)
12.41pm: Kevin Tway, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Patton Kizzire
12.52pm: Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Cameron Smith (Aus)
1.03pm: Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Corey Conners (Can)
1.14pm: Bubba Watson, Jason Day (Aus), Lucas Bjerregaard (Den)
1.25pm: Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm (Esp)
1.36pm: Adam Scott (Aus), Patrick Cantlay, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den)
1.47pm: Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler
1.58pm: Justin Harding (Rsa), Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele
Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson, Ian Poulter (Eng)
2.20pm: Tony Finau, Francesco Molinari (Ita), Tiger Woods
Starting at 10th hole
12.30pm: (a) Viktor Hovland (Nor), Kyle Stanley, Charley Hoffman
12.41pm: Kevin Kisner, Bryson DeChambeau, (a) Takumi Kanaya (Jpn)
12.52pm: Rory McIlroy (N Irl), Keegan Bradley, Gary Woodland
JB Holmes, Jimmy Walker, Charles Howell III
1.14pm: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Kevin Na, (a) Alvaro Ortiz (Mex)
1.25pm: Patrick Reed, Keith Mitchell, (a) Devon Bling
1.36pm: Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Andrew Landry
1.47pm: Bernhard Langer (Ger), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp), Eddie Pepperell (Eng)
1.58pm: Branden Grace (RSA), Haotong Li (Chn), Martin Kaymer (Ger)
Zach Johnson, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Billy Horschel
2.20pm: Trevor Immelman (RSA), Alex Noren (Swe)