Third Round

Third Round

It would go down as one of the grand ironies in the history of golf that two kids, thousands of miles apart, who were inspired by Tiger Woods at the same time, would be battling him for the Masters championship more than two decades later.

Saturday at the 2019 Masters, the third round, was the 22nd anniversary of Woods’ victory in the 1997 Masters, a breathtaking, historic 12-stroke rampage by the 21-year-old.

In Utah that day, Tony Finau, only seven, was riveted to the television set. “Just watching Tiger dominate the way that he did was very inspiring for me, as a kid,” he said, “and I took up the game.” In Italy, Francesco Molinari, 14, was watching his hero, countryman Costantino Rocca. Then he fixed on Woods. “He was someone I looked up to,” Molinari said. “He’s one of those sporting icons that you don’t need to be American to appreciate.”

Then on that Saturday in the 2019 Masters, Molinari, Finau and Woods were fed into some kind of cosmic collision course that would bring them together in the final round the next day.

But this wasn’t a three-man chase, not by a long shot. There were 11 golfers crammed within five shots of the lead at day’s end.

Saturday at Augusta glowed. “The conditions were perfect — light wind, very scorable,” said Dustin Johnson. Even so, the playful sprite that was golf slipped away from some. Johnson started the day one stroke off the lead, shot two-under 70, and finished five behind.

For Adam Scott, who started tied for the lead, it was the greens. “I tried to read the pace of the greens … maybe the slowest I’ve ever seen them here,” he said. “Early on I just didn’t have enough pace on putts and then I had too much.” He shot par 72 and fell six behind. For fellow Aussie Jason Day, who also had shared the lead, it was the tees. “I just couldn’t get it on the fairways,” he said. A 73 dropped him seven behind. South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, another from the tie, shot 71 and fell five behind.

For Rory McIlroy, the career Grand Slam fell pretty much out of sight on his 71, 12 off the lead. “It’s not as if I’m playing bad golf,” he said. In the three rounds, he’d made 11 birdies and two eagles, but also 14 bogeys. Molinari was leading going into the third round at seven under, Woods trailed by one and Finau by four, and the steeplechase was on.

Finau would be remembered as tying for 10th in the 2018 Masters despite fighting the pain of a severe ankle injury suffered in the par-three contest. This time he started the third round with a sprint, birdieing the first three holes. Another birdie at No. 6, and then an eagle at the par-five No. 8 — his four-iron approach stopped just inches from the cup — gave him a record-tying, six-under 30 on the front nine. Birdies at 13 and 15 gave him an eight-under 64, one of an unprecedented three for the day, with those of Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson.

Finau, leading for the moment at 11-under 205, frolicked on Augusta’s par-fives. He’d played Nos. 2, 8, 13 and 15 in birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. “Hitting it with length and hitting it in the fairway — they are very reachable for me,” he said. “At Augusta National, you have to play the par-fives well to win.”

Woods started 40 minutes after Finau and bogeyed No. 1 — the only bogey among the three in the third round. Then he raced to six birdies the rest of the way for a 67, tying Finau at 11 under.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in contention here,” Woods said. “But then again, the last two majors count for something. I’ve been in the mix with a chance to win major championships in the last two years, and so that helps. I’m just thankful to be able to come back here and play again.”

Woods tied for the lead — briefly — when he holed a seven-foot putt for birdie at the 16th, under the thunder of the gallery. He was tied with Molinari and Finau — the latter already finished — at 11 under. But shortly thereafter, Molinari rolled in an eight-footer at the 14th for the third of his four straight birdies, getting to 12 under. Another birdie at the 15th gave him a 66, a 13-under 203, and a two-stroke lead. Woods and Finau were tied for second, two behind. They would play the last round as the final group. But it was not a three-man race. Brooks Koepka shot 69 and was three behind, and Webb Simpson, after that 64, and Ian Poulter (68) were four behind.

Third-round leaders: Francesco Molinari 66–203, Tony Finau 64–205, Tiger Woods 67–205, Brooks Koepka 69–206, Webb Simpson 64–207, Ian Poulter 68–207, Matt Kuchar 68–208, Justin Harding 70–208, Xander Schauffele 70–208, Dustin Johnson 70–208, Louis Oosthuizen 71–208.


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