Welcome to the Tiger era

US Masters: World's best a record nine shots adrift as Woods starts to take golf into a new dimension

They say the US Masters does not begin until the back nine on Sunday, but once Tiger Woods made the second half of Augusta National into his own private pitch-and-putt on Thursday a certain inevitability set into this year's tournament. Living up to the huge expectations placed upon him in the style Woods has is not only staggering, but almost incomprehensible in the modern game of golf.

Yesterday, in the third round, Woods found out how to play the front nine. He went to the turn in 32 to blow away the challenge of his nearest 36-hole pursuer, Colin Montgomerie, and his 65, adding to his 70 and 66, gave him an nine-shot lead. In doing so Woods broke the 54-hole lead for the Masters and equalled the 15-under third-round total of Ray Floyd in 1976. Italy's Costantino Rocca is lying second on six under, with Paul Stankowski one further back and the Toms, Kite and Watson on four under.

For all the records Woods, who is 19 under for his last 45 holes here, has already set, it seems inevitable that more will fall today and for the next 20 years. "It is like when Jack Nicklaus came out in the 60s," said Kite, the US Ryder Cup captain. "He was way out in front and everyone else on tour spent the next 20 to 30 years catching up. This seems to be the next generation.

"It is very exciting what this kid is doing, but you just have to temper it a bit. There is no way that [Augusta chairman] Jackson Stephens and Nick Faldo are going to be putting the green jacket on him tonight. We know what can happen in sport." Especially, at Augusta, where Greg Norman lost a six-shot lead to Faldo a year ago.

But Montgomerie would hand him the 42 long jacket now. He said: "There is no chance that Tiger Woods is going to lose this tournament. No way. This is different to last year. Faldo is not lying second and Tiger Woods is not Greg Norman. I appreciated how far he hit his driver, and how he hit his irons, but I did not appreciate how he can putt. He is nine clear now and I am sure it will be higher tomorrow."

"That is a bold statement, but the tournament is not over yet," Woods said. "But I am thinking well and playing well, so I feel comfortable and I am capitalising on my advantage off the tee. It's a big lead, but I still need to go out tomorrow and shoot a good number. But whatever I shoot, all I want is a green jacket in my locker."

Woods, more than his power and his technical ability, has also shown the makings of a champion by winning the highest honours available at every level of the game which he has played. That included becoming the first player to win three consecutive US Amateur titles. He also has a sense of history. "It means a lot to achieve something that no one has accomplished," he said.

Woods, at 21 years and three months, has already become the youngest player to lead the Masters, beating Seve Ballesteros' record from the first round of the 1980 Masters, when the Spaniard also became the youngest winner at 23 years and four days. Today, Woods is in line to erase that mark, and will go after the 72-hole low score of 17 under held by Floyd and Nicklaus, plus Nicklaus's biggest margin of victory - nine strokes in 1965.

Nicklaus, who cannot avoid using the word "phenomenal", like everyone else, in describing Woods, said a year ago that Woods would one day beat his and Arnold Palmer's combined tally of 10 green jackets. Nicklaus won his second major as a professional, but Woods, in his third Masters, has the opportunity to win his first as a pro, as Jerry Pate did at the US Open in 1976.

Woods had already disproved the theory that he did not have enough experience of Augusta as he traumatised Faldo into missing the cut along with Norman. Montgomerie wondered whether his experience of competing in major championships would help him. It did not.

Montgomerie, who trailed the leader by three shots at the start of the third round, had a grin on his face early on, though, when he sneaked 10 yards past Woods's tee shot at the opening hole, but it soon faded. Up at the green, Woods holed a tricky six-footer for par and then out- drove Montgomerie by well over a 100 yards at the second. Montgomerie hooked his drive into the trees on the left. The Scot then played out right but put his third into a bunker and took three to get down. The bogey six dropped him two more behind Woods's regulation chip-and-putt birdie.

Woods's game is not just based on power and while he holed from eight feet for par at the third, Monty missed from a similar distance for a birdie. The Scot dropped another shot at the fifth, where Woods holed from 12 feet for birdie. He then lipped out on six, holed another from 10 feet at the seventh and two-putted the eighth, where Montgomerie bogeyed his second par-five of the day.

While Montgomerie struggled home for a 74, Rocca first played himself off the leaderboard by dropping four shots in three holes on the front nine, and then back on to it with four birdies, starting with a four-iron to four feet at the 11th, and an eagle at the 13th.

By his standards, Woods had a quiet back nine, where his 10 under for the first two days was another record. He birdied the 11th, but played the two par-fives, 13 and 15, in one under. Woods, the showman that he is, saved something special for those at the 18th by spinning in his approach to a foot. The Augusta patrons, who have seen it all, and seen them all, made for the exits in stunned silence.

Complete third-round scores

201 T Woods 70 66 65

210

C Rocca (It) 71 69 70

211

P Stankowski 68 74 69

212

T Watson 75 68 69

T Kite 77 69 66

213

J Sluman 74 67 72

C Montgomerie (GB)

72 67 74

214

F Couples 72 69 73

215

JM Olazabal (Sp) 71 70 74

216

T Tolles 72 72 72

J Leonard 76 69 71

F Funk 73 74 69

J Parnevik (Swe) 73 72 71

217

N Price (Zim) 71 71 75

F Zoeller 75 73 69

218

D Frost (SA) 74 71 73

B Langer (Ger) 72 72 74

T Lehman 73 76 69

S Appleby (Aus) 72 76 70

V Singh (Fiji) 75 74 69

P-U Johansson (Swe) 72 73 73

219

P Azinger 69 73 77

J Huston 67 77 75

M Calcavecchia 74 73 72

M O'Meara 75 74 70

W Wood 72 76 71

L Janzen 72 73 74

220

I Woosnam (GB) 77 68 75

C Stadler 77 72 71

S Elkington (Aus) 76 72 72

S McCarron 77 71 72

S Lyle (GB) 73 73 74

S Hoch 79 68 73

221

D Waldorf 74 75 72

J Furyk 74 75 72

S Torrance (GB) 75 73 73

L Westwood 77 71 73

J Nicklaus 77 70 74

222

L Mize 79 69 74

Masashi Ozaki (Japan) 74 74 74

F Nobilo (NZ) 76 72 74

B Crenshaw 75 73 74

227

C Pavin 75 74 78

C Rose 73 75 79

US unless stated * denotes amateur

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