- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. | Welcome to golf's version of the Final Four.

The 73rd Masters has crystallized into a four-man, 18-hole sprint featuring Kenny Perry (11-under, 205), Angel Cabrera (205), Chad Campbell (207) and Jim Furyk (208). Each member of the quartet atop the leader board at Augusta National boasts major championship experience as well as multiple professional victories.

Cabrera and Furyk can claim past major triumphs. The 39-year-old Argentine blasted his way to the 2007 U.S. Open title at Oakmont. The steely Furyk managed his U.S. Open conquest four years earlier at Olympia Fields. Both Campbell and Perry have had near misses. Campbell's came at Oak Hill in the 2003 PGA Championship. Perry's brush with immortality came at Valhalla in the 1996 PGA.

More than likely, there will be a new member of the green-jacket fraternity come Sunday night.

“The more often you go through these situations, the more comfortable you become in them,” said Furyk after a third-round 68 left the 38-year-old positioned to add a second major to a career that includes 13 PGA Tour victories and 11 consecutive appearances for the U.S. in the Ryder and Presidents Cups. “I'm still close enough that if I play a good round, I can put some stress on the leaders and have a good chance to win.”

Throwing a star-power scare into the players above them on the board was undoubtedly the goal of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson entering Saturday. But neither of the world's top two players managed to break 70 on a benign day around the 7,435-yard, par-72 layout, leaving both at 4 under (212), paired together for the finale and rooting for a miracle.

Barring both a historic charge and a meltdown by the veterans atop the leader board, Woods won't be slipping into his fifth green jacket Sunday.

The 14-time major champion snap-hooked his opening drive into the trees en route to a double bogey at No. 1, immediately short-circuiting his chances at a surge. Woods rallied with three late birdies (Nos. 13, 15 and 17) to post a 70 and reach 4 under for the tournament, but he needed a score in the mid-60s to make things interesting.

Woods finds himself buried behind nine players on the leader board and trailing Perry and Cabrera by seven strokes. If that margin seems less than insurmountable for arguably the greatest golfer in history, remember that Woods has never rallied from even one stroke back to win a major. He's won each of his majors from at least a share of the lead through 54 holes. And there aren't any signs that such a rally is in the offing for a player who has posted just one score in the 60s in his last 16 trips around Augusta National.

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