Tiger And The Leaders

By Brian HewittApril 12, 2008, 4:00 pm
At the outset of Sundays final round of the 2008 Masters there will be two tournaments to follow.
The first one will revolve around the efforts of World No. 1 Tiger Woods to storm back from a six-shot deficit and win the first leg of what billions of golf fans hope will be a calendar Grand Slam.
The second tournament will be the one that centers around the current leaders. After 54 holes Trevor Immelman sits at 11-under par thanks to a gritty Saturday 69 at Augusta National that moved him to 11-under par. He will be paired in the final grouping, for the second straight day, with 2007 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker survived three straight bogeys on the back nine and trails Immelman by two.
I put myself right back in the golf tournament, Woods said moments after posting a Saturday 68 that materialized with the help from the weather that never got as nasty as had been predicted.
Trouble for Tiger was he posted his score before Immelman, who struggled early, birdied 13, 14 and 18 to re-extend his lead and make Woods Sunday task more difficult.
An historical reminder here: Woods has won 13 major championships (including four Masters) but has never come from behind on Sunday to win a major.
The number one story line at the beginning of the week centered, of course, around whether Woods would win at all.
His Saturday tee time got delayed by 40 minutes when a strong but swift line of thunderstorms hustled their way through the Augusta hour during the lunch hour.
This was nothing like the four hour and 18 minute play that disrupted The Masters two years ago on Saturday. Phil Mickelson emerged as the winner that Sunday. And a lot of people believed he was the real leader of the golf tournament after 36 holes with his 5-under total.
Alas for Phil, he stumbled to a third round 75, three shots behind Woods.
All of this did a measure of disservice to Immelman, who had fashioned a pair of 68s to get to 8-under at the halfway mark. It also wasnt entirely fair to Snedeker who trailed Immelman by one at the halfway point.
Most of the smart money early Saturday was on Mickelson mainly because of history. Prior to last years T24 finish at Augusta, he had posted eight straight top 10s in this event. Besides winning in 2006, he had broken through at Augusta National in 2004 with a birdie on the 72d hole that edged Ernie Els and produced his first victory in a major championship.
All Masters are different, as upset winner Zach Johnson proved last year. But all Masters are members of the same family. And the history of the tournament has proven that, while longshots can run first, the favorites usually parlay skill with experience when the finish line nears.
The other topic of conversation that merited attention as the third round moved forward was Sundays course set-up. Masters officials had been hinting all week long that certain hole locations on Sunday would be benign, thus assuring a return to the so-called Sunday roars at the Masters.
The tumult and the shouting that emerges in waves from Amen Corner during the final round of a hotly-contested Masters are like nothing else in golf. But weather forecasters have predicted high winds which could, if they attack the players Sunday, make eagles and birdies scarcer than a face value ticket. We can only hope the paid professionals are wrong again.
Speaking of Amen Corner, traditionally the stretch that begins on the par 4 11th and concludes at the par 5 15th, its thunder was being stolen. Through 36 holes the most difficult hole on the golf course was the par 4 10th, followed, in order, by No. 11 and the par 4 9th. The fourth most difficult hole, in terms of average score over par, was the par 4 7th.
That meant the toughest stretch on the golf course was 7-11. Amen corner was becoming something of a breather.
Sunday, of course, will be a different. It always is. There will be Woods. And there will be the winner. If the two become one and the same, Tiger Mania once again will dwarf everything else in golf.
At least until the conclusion of the next major, the U.S. Open in California in June.
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