Tiger on the charge as thunder rolls

The Masters: Woods on the rampage with four successive birdies before the storms take over at Augusta
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The Independent Online

As has been the suspicion ever since Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997 in such emphatic style, once the world No 1 finally got going in the 64th tournament at Augusta National it took an act of God to stop him. Or at least slow him down. Woods had just birdied four holes in a row when the third round was suspended by the threat of a thunderstorm.

Two hours later, after heavy rain had softened the course, Woods collected two more birdies. His 68 was the 24-year-old's best score at Augusta for three years. Having started the day nine strokes behind David Duval, the 36-hole leader, Woods moved from three over to one under par.

If Woods did not think the weather was a friend to him, it was positively beastly to the later starters and from the safety of the clubhouse Tiger roared even further up the leaderboard.

"The whole idea today was to try and get back to even par and, if I got lucky, to get under par," Woods said. But just as Arnold Palmer was told he could not win the 1960 US Open because he was too far back, Tiger did not take kindly to similar comments about him on Friday night. "I watched a little TV last night and a lot of people were saying I was completely out of it.

"I didn't appreciate that very much though I put that aside this morning. I'm not out of it. Anything can happen, as we've seen in the past. I felt anything from eight shots back could still win going into the final round, granted you would need one of those magical days."

When Woods reached the clubhouse, he was five behind as Duval and Vijay Singh set off in the day's final pairing knowing they may not complete the round before darkness. Conditions were brutally, however, with the strongly gusting wind. Woods started the day in 39th position, was 12th when he finished his round but improved into the top-five as those ahead dropped strokes.

Davis Love also scored a 68 to move to one under, while Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Carlos Franco and Jesper Parnevik leapt up the leaderboard with 70s. "We got a good break with the weather, even though we were interrupted," said Love. Playing mostly after the delay, Padraig Harrington and Jean Van de Velde had 75s and Colin Montgomerie a 77.

Duval managed to hit every green on the front nine but three-putted the third to drop one stroke to the turn. Singh took the lead at six under with a birdie at the par-five eighth before dropping a shot at the 11th. Ernie Els, who shared two place overnight with Singh and Phil Mickelson, had not made a birdie through 12 holes while dropping two shots, while Mickelson went to the turn in 40. Steve Jones, briefly tied for the lead, had a triple bogey seven at the seventh. Loren Roberts made four birdies in six holes on the front nine but bogeyed the 11th to be one off the lead.

Initially Woods did little to suggest a great charge was in the offing as he bogeyed the third. "The key to the round was the up and down on four," Woods said. Over the first 36 holes, Woods had taken ten more putts than Duval and when he missed a birdie chance at the short sixth, after a fine tee shot, it appeared luck would again desert him on the greens.

The thought must have occurred to Woods himself for at the seventh, a short but fiendish par-four, he pitched in to only 18 inches. This proved the start of the sort of run - six birdies in nine holes - Woods has not been able to produce at Augusta since his 18-under winning score, and 12-stroke winning margin, four years ago.

He left himself short putts at both the par-five eighth and the ninth, converting both to be out in 34, and then holed from 10 feet for a three at the tenth. Such was the relief and pure joy of such an occurrence, Woods pumped his fist in familiar style.

Finally Woods was back to level par, repairing the damage of an opening 75. But before he could reach Amen Corner, as if in response to the prayers of others players, the siren interrupted play. On the resumption, Woods parred the 11th but found the back bunker at the short 12th and needed to hole from 12 feet for par.

"I wish we didn't have to come off the course," Woods said of the interruption. "I had the rhythm of the round, the flow of my swing, a great feeling in my body. The good news I didn't have to come back to play that 12th tee shot," Woods said.

He was momentarily distracted on the green when a ball was wildly sliced through the trees from the ninth hole of the adjoining Augusta Country Club. "Whoever it was must have been pretty embarrassed because he didn't come and get it," Woods, who was 20 feet away, said. "I could see from the dimple pattern that it was not the brand I play so I didn't bother to pick it up."

Woods' next two birdies came at the two par-fives, the 13th and the 15th, but failing to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 cost a shot. "My approach shot was solid but I just needed to carry it six more inches," Woods said. But he holed an eight-footer for par at the last and credited his father, Earl, and coach Butch Harmon for the improvement in his putting. "My dad said my hands were too low and Butch noticed I was taking the putter back too much on the inside. I felt I could release the blade properly."

When Woods posted a 72 on Friday it was the tenth round since he won in which he had failed to break 70. Given the American media's obsession with statistics, this was meant to prove that Woods is not so suited to Augusta after all. Utter rot, of course. The leaderboard, packed with big hitters who putt well, proved that.

Only Woods was missing and the reason might be the same as why Norman has never won and Seve Ballesteros, contrary to expectation, never collected more than two green jackets. Pressing too hard at Augusta is a fatal error. Els, eighth on his debut at Augusta in 1994 but has not had a top-ten finish since, admits to wanting Masters success too much.

"I've been too preoccupied to do well," Els explained. "I put too much pressure on myself and maybe expected too much too soon, especially after my first year. I felt really comfortable around the course that year but since then I have probably tried too hard. This time I am trying to be more patient."

Augusta scoreboard

THIRD ROUND SCORES Par 72; US unless stated; *denotes amateurs.

209209 V Singh (Fij) 72 67 70 212212 D Duval 73 65 74 213213 L Roberts 73 69 71, E Els (SA) 72 67 74 215 T Woods 75 72 68, D Love III 75 72 68, M Weir (Can) 75 70 70, P Mickelson 71 68 76 216 N Price (Zim) 74 69 73, T Lehman 69 72 75 217 C Franco (Par) 79 68 70, D Paulson 68 76 73, S Garcia (Spa) 70 72 75,B Langer (Ger) 71 71 75, S Jones 71 70 76 218 F Couples 76 72 70, G Norman (Aus) 80 68 70, J Parnevik (Swe) 77 71 70, H Sutton 72 75 71, J Furyk 73 74 71, C Parry (Aus) 75 71 72, D Hart 75 71 72, J Huston 77 69 72, L Mize 78 67 73, M Ozaki (Japan) 72 72 74, N Faldo (GB) 72 72 74, S Stricker 70 73 75 219 S Cink 75 72 72, D Toms 74 72 73, J Sluman 73 69 77 220 C Perry 73 75 72, G Day 79 67 74, R Mediate 71 74 75, P Harrington (Ire) 76 69 75, I Woosnam (GB) 74 70 76, J Leonard 72 71 77, B Estes 72 71 77 221 N Begay 74 74 73, M Brooks 72 76 73, T Bjorn (Den) 71 77 73, S Maruyama (Japan) 76 71 74, J Van de Velde (Fr) 76 70 75, J Haas 75 71 75, P Azinger 72 72 77, F Funk 75 68 78, D Clarke (GB) 72 71 78, R Goosen (SA) 73 69 79 222 C Montgomerie (GB) 76 69 77 223 B Jobe 73 74 76, S Gump 75 70 78 224 S Pate 78 69 77 225 J Nicklaus 74 70 81, S Kendall 76 72 77, *D Gossett 75 71 79 226 S Elkington (Aus) 74 74 78, M A Jimenez (Sp) 76 71 79 232 T Aaron 72 74 86

SECOND ROUND

138 D Duval 73 65 139 V Singh (Fiji) 72 67, E Els (SA) 72 67, P Mickelson 71 68 141 T Lehman 69 72, S Jones 71 70 142 B Langer (Ger) 71 71, J Sluman 73 69, L Roberts 73 69, R Goosen (SA) 73 69, S Garcia (Sp) 70 72 143 B Estes 72 71, J Leonard 72 71, D Clarke (GB) 72 71, N Price (Zim) 74 69, F Funk 75 68, S Stricker 70 73 144 D Paulson 68 76, I Woosnam (GB) 74 70, J Nicklaus 74 70, N Faldo (GB) 72 72, M Ozaki (Japan) 72 72, P Azinger 72 72 145 M Weir (Can) 75 70, C Montgomerie (GB) 76 69, S Elkington (Aus) 74 71, S Gump 75 70, R Mediate 71 74, L Mize 78 67, P Harrington (Irl) 76 69 146 J Haas 75 71, D Hart 75 71, J Huston 77 69, *D Gossett 75 71, J Van de Velde (Fr) 76 70, C Parry (Aus) 75 71, D Toms 74 72, G Day 79 67, T Aaron 72 74 147 M A Jimenez (Sp) 76 71, S Pate 78 69, J Furyk 73 74, C Franco (Par) 79 68, D Love 75 72, H Sutton 72 75, B Jobe 73 74 S Maruyama (Japan) 76 71, T Woods 75 72, S Cink 75 72 148 M Brooks 72 76, T Bjorn (Den) 71 77, C Perry 73 75, J Parnevik (Swe) 77 71, G Norman (Aus) 80 68, N Begay 74 74, S Kendall 76 72, F Couples 76 72

NON-QUALIFIERS

149 J M Olazabal (Sp) 72 77; B Tway 77 72; *D Green 73 76; D Waldorf 78 71; J Maggert 77 72; *A Baddeley (Aus) 77 72; S Hoch 78 71. 150 C Pavin 80 70; S Appleby (Aus) 73 77; M O'Meara 75 75; B Geiberger 76 74; G Player (SA) 76 74; *Kim Sung Yoon (S Kor) 75 75; C Stadler 73 77; A Cabrera (Arg) 74 76. 151 S Lyle (GB) 79 72; G Hjertstedt (Swe) 78 73; T Watson 75 76. 152 N Ozaki (Japan) 75 77; L Westwood (GB) 77 75; L Janzen 76 76. 153 J Daly 80 73; *H Haas 80 73; P Lawrie (GB) 79 74. 155 K Triplett 76 79; B Crenshaw 79 76; C Coody 81 74. 156 T Tryba 75 81; F Zoeller 82 74. 157 B Watts 78 79. 158 T Herron 84 74; R Floyd 80 78. 159 *G Storm (GB) 83 76. 160 A Palmer 78 82. 162 S Ballesteros (Sp) 81 81; G Brewer 84 78.

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