- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - After severe storms swept through the Augusta National course overnight, the third round of the Masters began Saturday under blue skies and a brilliant sun. The softer greens might lead to another assault on the scoreboard, even though the men in green have ways of keeping the scores from going too low: tougher pin placements and pushed-back tees.

Nineteen-year-old Rory McIlroy played the final three holes Friday at 5 over, making the cut on the number. He got a reprieve from the rules committee after kicking the sand in disgust when he couldn’t get out of the bunker at No. 18. On Day Three, he got off to a good start with a birdie at the par-5 second hole.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ They’ve taken care of all the nostalgic farewells at Augusta National.

Goodbye, Gary Player. Raise a toast to Fuzzy Zoeller. And, just in case Greg Norman doesn’t make it back, thanks for the memories, Great White Shark, however painful some of them might be.

Now, it’s time to get down to the real business of this Masters.

Does Kenny Perry have what it takes to become the oldest winner in major championship history? Can Chad Campbell hang on to an Augusta lead the second time around? Will Anthony Kim’s putter keep on smokin’?

And perhaps the most pressing issue of all: What’s up with Tiger Woods?

The world’s No. 1 player has spent two days plodding around the course, doing just enough to stay on the fringe of contention. For the third year in a row, he’s showing none of the Tiger bravado at a place that’s given him four of his 14 majors, preferring to play it safe rather than throwing caution to a steadily increasing breeze.

While that approach is keeping Woods in the mix (sort of), everyone keeps waiting for him to have a Tiger moment.

Instead, it was the 48-year-old Perry who played like the Woods of 1997. He kept pulling out his driver and wound up with a bogey-free, 5-under-par 67 Friday that looked downright easy, even as a swirling breeze kicked up and the greens got firmer and firmer.

“I feel like I can win,” said Perry, tied for the lead with Campbell at 9-under 135. “If I can keep hitting all the fairways like I’m doing, it’s going to make life a lot easier out there.”

Perry is trying to become the oldest major champion ever. He’s about four months older than Julius Boros when he won the 1968 PGA Championship. And to think, the Kentucky native thought he had found the pinnacle of his career last fall when he played on the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team in his native state.

Campbell got off to the best start in Masters history _ five birdies in his first five holes Thursday _ and he shook off a shaky back nine Friday to finish with a 70, rolling in a 25-foot birdie putt at No. 18.

He also knows what it feels like to be in this spot; he held the 36-hole lead in 2006 before fading on a rain-plagued weekend.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Campbell said, “but it’s definitely nice to not be on foreign ground.”

No one has ever put together a round quite like Kim’s on day two. Coming off a 75 that had him more worried about making the cut than contending, he set a Masters record with 11 birdies in conditions that should have been harder for scoring than a day earlier. He rolled in five birdie putts of at least 15 feet.

“I really don’t know what happened,” said Kim, who eclipsed Nick Price’s 10-birdie performance in 1986. “The putter got hot, and my confidence kept getting a little bit bigger.”

Of course, the green jacket isn’t handed out after 36 holes, and it would be foolish to bet against Woods mounting a comeback from his seven-stroke deficit. Just two weeks ago, he rallied from five shots down on the final day to win at Bay Hill.

But there are 18 golfers standing between Woods and the top spot at Augusta, including two-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who was flirting with the cut line before he rallied for a 68 that pushed him into contention, though still six shots back.

Also in the mix, everyone from another Augusta winner, Vijay Singh, to ex-U.S. Open champions Jim Furyk, Geoff Ogilvy and Angel Cabrera to the Best Player Never to Win a Major, Sergio Garcia.

Even Todd Hamilton, ranked 373 in the world but suddenly finding the game that carried him to a British Open title in 2004, was just three shots back after a pair of turn-back-the-clock rounds.

Woods will have to pass them all if he wants to win his fifth green jacket _ a daunting task even for him.

“I’ve got to play a little bit better than I have,” Woods conceded, “make a few more putts and clean up my round.” The weather could shake things up.

After two warm, sunny days, heavy storms wept over the course Friday night. The softer greens might lead to another assault on the scoreboard, even though the men in green are sure to toughen up the pin placements and perhaps move back some tee boxes to keep the scores from going too low.

None of that will be a concern to Player, Zoeller and Norman.

Player and Zoeller had prearranged their departures, announcing before they even teed off that this would be their final Masters. Neither had any hope of making the cut, so they spent 36 holes just soaking up the adulation of the patrons.

Competing for a record 52nd time, the 73-year-old Player knelt before reaching the 18th green and clasped his hands to thank the gallery.

“I got a standing ovation on every single hole,” he said. “They went on and on and on.”

Zoeller wiped away a tear that slipped out from under his sunglasses, blew a kiss to the crowd and hustled up the small hill behind the 18th green to sign his final Masters scorecard. Still uncertain is whether his racially insensitive comments after Woods won the 1997 Masters will be forgiven and forgotten.

Norman, certainly the most dominant golfer never to win the Masters, played his way back into the field for the first time since 2002 with a stirring performance at the British Open. The 54-year-old Aussie didn’t want this to be a one-off, but a double-bogey 7 at No. 13 sent him tumbling to a 77 _ yet another Augusta disappointment in a career filled with them.

The Shark had no hard feelings.

“It’s still the best tournament around,” Norman said.

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