Sunday, April 08, 2001

Can anyone master Tiger?

        AUGUSTA, Ga. — Who is ready for this? The Hall of Fame is on the leaderboard, chasing a player who's chasing history. Tiger Woods is up for it, oh yes. He has spent the better part of his 25 years prepping for just this moment.

        If he wins the Masters today, he'll hold all four major professional championships at once. Nobody's ever done that. It's the mantel of a lifetime. Tiger has a space dusted off for the crystal winner's trophy right now.

        Who's up to ruining his day?

        Who has the combination of skill and spine to beat Woods at his own, Sunday afternoon game? Tiger with the third-round lead is Joe Montana with the football and a minute to play. Giving Woods
the 54-hole lead at a major is like tossing a cow at a piranha.

        What about you, Phil Mickelson?

        Mickelson is a shot behind. He has a craftsman's touch around the greens. He says he has a new-found calm he attributes to his improved game. Mickelson has scrambled for three days, twice overcoming potentially disastrous double bogeys.

        Phil says bring it.

        He also said jokingly he'd appreciate it if Woods “shared” some of his major-winning wealth.

        “Are you in a sharing mood?” someone asked Tiger.

        “I'm in a competitive mood,” said Woods, unsmiling.

        What about you, Chris DiMarco? DiMarco's two strokes back. The first time he played here was Monday. The last rookie to win here was Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979.

        So ... who else?

        Ernie (Alydar) Els has shown he's unbeatable at finishing second to Woods in big events. He's three back. David Duval wants to win a Masters so badly, he might even smile if he does. He's three away, too. Duval was six shots back after three rounds of the British Open last summer. He vowed to take it to Tiger. Then at No.17, Duval spent more time in the sand than Frankie Avalon.

        What about you, Mark Calcavecchia? He won't be intimidated (he and Woods are friends); his short game is on track; he has played here 14 times. Calcavecchia is two back.

        Woods being 12-under “means somebody has to beat him by two or three. That's very do-able,” Calcavecchia said. “Tiger will be nervous like the rest of us.”

In need of a rival

        We've been looking for a Maris to Tiger's Mantle for a few years now. Who is he? Does he exist?

        What better place than Sunday at Augusta to find out? The wind may have taken the week off. The greens may lack that familiar, pie-crust feel. Players have savaged the place. But it's Sunday now, and everything changes.

        Woods humbled his way through a press conference Saturday. “I really didn't do anything great. I just plodded along,” was how he described his 68. Mickelson is a “wonderful” player, Tiger allowed. The rest of the leaderboard was equally “wonderful,” he said.

        And if Woods plods again today, all that wonderful will be sucking Rae's Creek water. Said Rocco Mediate, also on the leaderboard, looking up: “(Woods') presence pushes you. If you can handle that, you're going to play well.”

        Yes, but ... who might?

        Woods is chasing a championship and history. Eighteen holes stand between him and All Time. Who is ready to derail that train? It seems awfully close to pulling out.

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