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A hectic moving day wreaks havoc on the Masters leader board

A hectic moving day wreaks havoc on the Masters leader board

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters christens stars, crowns champions and humbles legends, spawning highlights that are celebrated for generations. But the toughest task at Augusta National Golf Club on Saturday took place far from the TV cameras. It fell to the poor souls charged with climbing the green metal ladders and manually updating the white leader boards scattered around the course.

Divert your eyes for just a moment, and the entire deck gets reshuffled. At one point in Saturday’s third round, there were five golfers tied for the lead. Less than 30 minutes later, it was down to a single leader. So went a frenzied afternoon at Augusta, where heavyweights traded blows and set the stage for what should be a memorable final round.

When the sun finally dipped in the glowing Georgia sky, Saturday’s tumult mercifully settled and the top of the leader board was actually fairly predictable. Of course, Scottie Scheffler was leading this tournament. The world’s top-ranked player posted a 1-under-par 71, putting him at 7 under and positioning him nicely for a second green jacket, a win that would launch him to a new level of golf stardom.

“I’m excited for the challenge of going and trying to win the golf tournament tomorrow,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s all about my process and trying to stay patient out there and hit all my shots and hit quality putts as well.”

He’ll enter Sunday’s final round with a one-shot lead over Collin Morikawa, the two-time major champion whose 69 was the day’s second-best score. Taking aim at his first major title, Max Homa was steady over 18 holes and finished with a 73 that left him two shots behind Scheffler and ensured he’ll be in the hunt when the leaders return to the course.

Scheffler holding the 54-hole lead surprises no one, but his path there was anything but smooth. For much of the afternoon, the round felt like a carnival ride with no one manning the controls.

Scheffler entered the day tied with Homa and Bryson DeChambeau for the lead at 6 under. He opened the third round with a chip-in birdie from 32 yards, and there was a sense of inevitability surrounding the 2022 Masters champion.

Scheffler had a share of the lead when disaster struck on the 10th hole: He overshot the green, and his ball settled among some pine straw and vegetation. His firm chip blew by the hole, and three putts later — one of which was a missed three-footer — he had hung a double bogey on the board.

And then on the par-4 11th, he missed a five-foot par putt and was suddenly plummeting down the leader board. The two-hole stretch provided the first hints at this tournament that the 27-year-old Texan might actually be mortal.

But before anyone could utter those thoughts aloud, Scheffler was on the 13th fairway, landing his approach 31 feet from the pin and then rolling in the eagle putt. Just as surprising: Scheffler erupted into a rare mid-round burst of emotion, pumping his fist three times.

“I didn’t know whether or not it was going to get there, and it kind of just nudged right over the edge and went in,” he said.

The formidable field around him took turns blowing opportunities. The exceptions were Morikawa and Homa, who were steady all day. Though both missed makable birdies, they largely avoided the mistakes that tend to doom golfers on moving day at the Masters.

Morikawa opened his round with three straight birdies, catapulting himself into contention. He didn’t miss a single fairway on the day and finished with 10 straight pars, good enough for a 69.

“It’s been a struggle the past few years,” he said, “and, you know, hasn’t been fun. … The past few days, I’ve seen some shots that I haven’t seen in quite some time.”

Tied for the lead when he entered the clubhouse, Morikawa is one of the more surprising names near the top of the leader board. He hasn’t had a top-10 finish since the first week of January, missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finishing tied for 75th at the Texas Open last weekend. Even he didn’t seem to know what to expect here, evidenced by his decision to switch from a mallet to a blade putter after Thursday’s opening round.

A win Sunday would alter the narrative around his season and his career. He already won the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2021 British Open, which would leave him a U.S. Open title shy of the career Grand Slam if he can slip on a green jacket here.

“Look, Scottie is the number one player in the world for a reason, and what he’s done over the past few years is incredible,” Morikawa said. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t scare me.”

Homa has six wins on the PGA Tour but has yet to make noise at a major. His best finish: tied for 10th at last year’s British Open. This has the makings of a breakthrough tournament, and on Saturday he had one of the cleanest cards of the day, minus a bogey on No. 12. While he’ll need a better round to best the field Sunday, there was no complaining about his 54-hole score.

“I’m happy I get to do it tomorrow. I’m going to remind myself I’m a dog and I’m ready for this moment,” he said.

While the top of the leader board held plenty of promise for Sunday, the bottom featured several prominent names struggling to find answers, most notably Tiger Woods. In 99 rounds at Augusta National, the five-time Masters champ never posted a score worse than 78 — until Saturday’s horrific 82, a round that included eight bogeys and two double bogeys, plus some limping and wincing. He’s tied for 52nd at 11 over.

“My team will get me ready,” he said of Sunday’s final round. “… It will be a long night and a long warmup session, but we’ll be ready.”

Saturday’s conditions had nothing on the wind that blasted through the tournament Friday, but it was still a day when even the smallest mistakes were punished heavily. Nicolai Hojgaard, the 23-year-old Dane making his Masters debut, started the day two shots off the lead. He battled his way to the top of the leader board with birdies at Nos. 8, 9 and 10. And how did he respond? With five straight bogeys. He finished with a 74, leaving him five shots behind Scheffler in a tie for sixth.

And then there’s DeChambeau, the first-round leader who appeared to have finally shaken off the demons that spoiled so many rounds here. Entering the day with a share of the lead, he was keeping pace with the top of the leader board before posting bogeys on Nos. 11 and 12.

On the par-5 15th, his approach landed on the fringe of the 17th fairway. He then chunked a chip and watched it roll into the creek. DeChambeau settled for a double bogey and looked completely out of sorts.

His ridiculous final shot capped what had been an indisputably ridiculous day. DeChambeau had to poke out of the trees right of the fairway on No. 18 and seemed destined for a big number. But his 77-yard wedge shot somehow found the hole, giving him a birdie to close Saturday’s round — and, more importantly, hope for Sunday.

“You just have to stay positive no matter what,” he said. “I had a great break on 18. I’ll take that any day of the week.”

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