Sunday at The Masters is a Banquet


The table is set. With Dresden china. Sterling Silver. And your grandmothers best linen napkins.
The Masters has been marinating in its own Georgia juices for three days now and it is time for a Sunday golf feast that almost always turns out to be delicious and charming, in large measure because it is not moveable.
The competitive appetites are properly whetted.
Nothing wrong with breakfast at Wimbledon. Or lunch at Wrigley Field in the midday Chicago sunshine. But they are nothing like the traditional dinner hour climax of The Masters.
The final pairing of Stuart Appleby and Tiger Woods will tee off at 2:15 p.m. A sudden death playoff, if needed, will begin on the 18th hole and alternate between the 10th and the 18th until a winner is determined. In the last 16 Masters the eventual champion has come from the last twosome.
Draw your own conclusions.
Woods, a four-time champion at Augusta National, is one shot back of Appleby. Applebys leading total of 2 over par is the highest in the history of the event.
After indifferent first two rounds of 73 and 74 that left him five shots back of the leaders at the halfway mark, Woods clawed back into contention with birdies on three and eight on a chilly, windy day that exalted par and turned birdies into a cause for full celebration. If he hadnt bogeyed 17 and 18 for the second time in three days, he would be leading.
Appleby had given us a hint of what was to come from him when he made seven birdies during a Friday 70 that had drawn him to within three of the lead. He took up where he left off Saturday with birdies on the second, third and fourth, a hole named Flowering Crab Apple by the Lords of The Masters.
There was nothing crabby about Applebys disposition after a wonderful par save from the left woods at the eighth that helped produce an outgoing nine hole score of 33.
This is the same Appleby who handed the Shell Houston Open to countryman Adam Scott on the final hole last Sunday when he pulled his approach into the water. Meanwhile he told people he wasnt especially looking forward to Augusta because, he said, he never played well there. In 10 previous Masters his best finish was a T-19 last year. In five of his first seven tries at Augusta National he failed to make the cut.
Now Appleby is gunning to become the first Australian ever to win the Masters. A victory by him would also help to erase the burning and painful memory of Aussie Greg Normans inglorious fourth round collapse and loss to Englands Nick Faldo in 1996 when The Shark started the final 18 six shots clear of Faldo.
The other early foot Saturday came from Retief Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion who arrived with his game in disarray. Goosen is still looking for his first top 10 in the U.S. this year and he made the 36-hole cut right on the number at 8 over par.
Then he whisked around to a 2-under 70 and suddenly stood at 6 over par, four back. Right about then the cognoscenti were forced to remind themselves that, of yeah, Goosen finished tied for third here in 2006 and 2005.
As for Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, he shot 73 and is tied with Goosen. Tied with Woods, one back of Appleby at 3 over, is first round leader Justin Rose.
One of the hardest rounds I think weve ever played here, Woods said of Saturdays crucible.
Sunday at The Masters is nigh. Somebody say grace.
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