Golf - US Masters: Young guns in dream land

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The Independent Online
ONE LAST invitation for the 63rd US Masters remains to be handed out today and it will go to the winner of the BellSouth Classic. Some of those on the leaderboard already hold the prestigious ticket. David Duval, the world No 1 aiming for his second win in successive weeks, Phil Mickelson, who shot the day's best round with a 64, Stewart Cink and John Huston know they will be at Augusta whatever happens in the final round at the TPC of Sugarloaf.

But for others the thought of turning into Magnolia Drive and arriving at Augusta National remains a sweet dream. Mike Weir, the 28-year-old Canadian left-hander, had to go back to the Qualifying School last year but ended up winning it.

Rory Sabbatini, a South African from Durban, is the youngest player on tour and says he knew from the age of eight this was where he wanted to be. He only turned professional six months ago, got through the first and second stages of the Q School and then shot a final round 67 in the finals to earn the 41st card. Having returned from a two-week break on Monday, he only got into this tournament as an alternate. A second successive 65 on his 23rd birthday on Friday gave Sabbatini a four-stroke lead, which he extended with three birdies in his first five holes yesterday. But then the Cinderella effect started to wear off. A 73 dropped him to 13 under and a share of third place with Duval and Huston, one behind Weir and Cink, who floated to the top with rounds of 68 and 66 respectively.

Apart from Sabbatini, virtually the only others not to get in on the low scoring were the three Britons, who all returned 73s. Colin Montgomerie started on the same mark as Mickelson but Monty's plan to "attack, attack, attack" did not come off. He birdied the second and the third but bogeyed the ninth and dropped two more shots at the last two holes. Having laid up at the 18th, he hit his wedge fat and ended up in the water.

Worse for Ian Woosnam than dropping back to four under was a pulled muscle in his back. It could not have come at a worse time, and just when he had rediscovered a draw shape to his iron shots.

"This always seems to happen when I start swinging well again," said a frustrated Woosnam. "My back went on the ninth on Friday and I knew as soon as I hit the shot that I was in trouble. I didn't feel too bad while I was hitting balls this morning but I felt it all the way round on the course."

Nick Faldo also described his golf as "painful" but only because he did not feel he got the results he deserved from a round which started with three birdies in five holes. But, playing the front nine second, his approach to the fifth got within three yards of the hole, caught a ridge and came back into the water for a double bogey.

"Silly things like that are happening right now," he said. "It feels like everything is uphill." But two missed cuts in the last two years at Augusta have not diminished his appetite for a tournament he has won three times. "I always love it there, it's a great place," he said.