Golf: Tiger one behind Molinari as Masters back-nine drama begins
AUGUSTA: Tiger Woods, seeking his 15th major title and first since 2008, trailed reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari by one stroke heading to the back nine in Sunday’s (Apr 14) dramatic final round of the Masters.
Woods, a four-time Masters winner who last won at Augusta National in 2005, was 12-under making the turn in quest of a US$2.07 million (€1.82 million) top prize and the green jacket symbolizing Masters supremacy.
World number 12 Woods trickled a delicate 70-foot downhill putt to a halt inches from the cup for a par at the ninth while Molinari sank a tricky six-footer for par to stay in front.
Americans Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka, last year’s US Open and PGA Championship winner, shared third on 11-under.
The 43-year-old American superstar, back on form after 2017 spinal fusion surgery following years of nagging back pain, was the clear crowd favorite at Augusta National, spectators roaring as he kept the pressure on Italy’s Molinari.
Molinari could become only the fifth man to win the Masters green jacket in the year after taking the Claret Jug, joining Woods, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros.
Molinari owned the 54-hole lead on 13-under par 203 with Woods and Finau, trying to become the fifth consecutive first-time major winner at the Masters, starting two strokes behind.
Woods sank an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-4 third but lipped out a 10-footer for par at the par-3 sixth, leaving Molinari still ahead by two.
Woods took his fourth bogey of the week at the par-4 fifth, the course’s hardest scoring hole, and Finau bogeyed as well while Molinari sank an eight-foot par putt and stretched his lead to three shots.
Molinari dodged trouble at the par-3 sixth, driving over the green but making a six-foot par save while Woods missed an 11-foot birdie putt.
Woods broke through at the par-4 seventh, landing his approach two feet from the cup to set up a birdie while Molinari found trees left and missed an 11-foot par putt, his edge on Woods slashed to a single shot.
It also ended Molinari’s run of 49 consecutive Masters holes at par or better, one shy of the tournament record set by Australia’s Stuart Appleby in 2001.
Molinari and Woods escaped trouble to each birdie the par-5 eighth, Woods after going over the green and Molinari after finding a bunker off the tee.
STORM NEARS AUGUSTA
Augusta National advanced the final round to Sunday morning with thunderstorms expected to arrive in the afternoon, when leaders would typically be battling for the Masters crown.
The Masters, which has not had a Monday conclusion since 1983, decided to cancel its green jacket ceremony at the 18th green in order to hurry spectators to the exits faster.
Racing nature’s fury to finish on the weekend added more tension to Woods’s bid to win his first major title since the 2008 US Open on the same course where he won his first-ever major in 1997.
Woods has never fired so low in a Masters and not won the title but he has also never won a major title when not leading after 54 holes.
Woods, who could move nearer Jack Nicklaus’s the all-time major win record of 18, contended last year at the British Open and PGA before snapping a five-year title drought by capturing the Tour Championship, his 80th career US PGA title leaving him two shy of matching Sam Snead’s all-time record.
Electrifying shotmaking this week at Augusta National, cheered on by supportive crowds anxious to witness history, has Woods on the verge of a fairytale conclusion to a fightback from back pain so crippling he was unable to play with his children.