Sunday, April 13, 2003

Maggert leads; Tiger lurks

Woods trails by four going into final round

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Saturday at the Masters was a show-stopper, all right. At least inside the gates of Augusta National. Tiger Woods electrified a massive gallery that stood shoulder-to-shoulder to watch his amazing turnaround - one putt away from cleaning out his locker to a familiar charge that left him on the cusp of the greatest comeback in Masters history.

Jeff Maggert, on the brink of collapse, birdied five of his six last holes for a 6-under 66 and grabbed a two-shot lead, his first ever going into the final round of a major (3:30-7 p.m. today, Channels 12, 7).

Vijay Singh chipped in for birdie and almost aced the 16th.

David Toms soared into contention with three straight birdies. Phil Mickelson raised hopes of winning that elusive major with three crucial pars.

"This is a position you dream about," Maggert said after his 6-under 66, matching Woods for the best score of the third round.

Martha Burk could only dream of such attention.

The real rally belonged to Woods. Woods was among those who feared this Masters might turn into a zoo because of all the protests against Augusta National's all-male membership.

He was close. There was an inflatable pig at Burk's demonstration a half-mile down the road from Magnolia Lane, but not much of a stink. The buzz came from the players, not the protesters.

In a grassy 5.1-acre lot, Burk and about 40 supporters rallied for their cause. They were far outnumbered by police and media.

"You've got to make a choice - is it discrimination or is it dollars?" Burk said, threatening to boycott companies whose executives belong to the club. "Today we are protesters with placards. Tomorrow, women will protest with their pocketbooks."

Maybe not Sunday. A ticket to the Masters should command top dollar.

No one has ever won three straight Masters. No one has ever trailed by 11 shots after 36 holes and gone on to win at Augusta National.

None of this seemed plausible when Woods stood behind a small pine tree in the ninth fairway on his final hole of the second round. He managed to squeeze a shot under the shoulder-high branches and scratch out a par just to make the cut.

That was only the appetizer on a spectacular day of sunshine and golf.

Maggert has won only once in the previous nine times he led going into the final round, and there were plenty of stars lurking behind - Woods the most daunting.

"If you look at the leaderboard now, it would be tough to say that's not one of the players you've got to worry about," Maggert said. "But I've struggled so much with my golf game ... it's helped me focus on the golf course."

He was at 5-under 211, one of only seven players who remain under par.

Mike Weir, who had a six-stroke lead at one point, staggered home with a 39 on the back for a 3-over 75 and was at 213, with Singh (70) and Toms (70) another stroke back.

Cheers crisscrossed Augusta National, but they were never far from Woods.

He started the third round at 5 over par with 42 players in front of him. When he played the last of his 26 holes, he was in a tie for fifth.

Woods practically called the shot. "If I can be even par or under par, I'll be right where I need to be," he said after walking off the ninth green, relieved to have made his 102nd consecutive cut.

He is right there, four strokes and four players separating him from slipping on the green jacket for the third straight year.

While Woods commanded most of the attention, he was among 16 players within six shots of the lead going into the final round.

Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, a forgotten man in golf this year, quietly crept into contention with a 71 and also was at 1-under 215.

Len Mattiace, Jim Furyk and Jonathan Byrd were at 216.

Woods finally found some momentum at No. 11 by holing a 50-foot birdie putt that made a left turn as it got to the hole and dropped. On the par-5 13th, his second shot somehow stayed out of the water and he chipped close for birdie.

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