| Mike Weir of Canada steers his way out of a flower grove on the 13th hole in Round III of the Augusta Masters Saturday. (AFP)
Augusta: Tiger Woods resurrected his hopes for an unprecedented third consecutive US Masters on Saturday, firing a six-under-par 66 to close to within four shots of Jeff Maggert’s third-round lead.
The world No.1, who began the day narrowly avoiding his first missed cut in a major as a professional, reeled off six birdies in glorious spring sunshine at Augusta National, finishing at one-under-par 215.
It left him perfectly poised for a final-day tilt at the title and another slice of golfing history, after spending his first two rounds simply trying to make the halfway cut, which he only managed with a shot to spare at five over par.
“In this tournament, we all know that anything can happen on that back nine,” Woods said. “You just need to get yourself in position. I’m four back now and that’s not inconceivable, that’s for sure,” added Woods, who led or was tied for the lead going into the last round of all eight majors he has won.
No player in the 69-year history of the Masters has won three green jackets in a row and Woods, champion at Augusta in 1997, 2001 and again last year, still faces a massive challenge to overhaul Maggert and long-time leader Mike Weir.
Although he has set himself up for a so-called “three-peat” of Masters titles, the 27-year-old American said this would not affect his strategy for the final round. “It doesn’t really enter my mind,” said Woods. “I’m trying to win a tournament and, if I win, obviously I take care of winning three in a row.”
Canada’s Weir, whose second-round 68 gave him a four-shot cushion at the rain-delayed tournament’s halfway point, led for most of round three before he was overtaken on the back nine by a fast-finishing Maggert.
Weir, who found the water at the par-five 13th, also bogeyed 16 and 17 as he lost momentum while Maggert, who birdied five of the last six holes, vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with a six-under-par 66.
The 39-year-old Maggert, who was third at last year’s US Open, finished on five-under 211, having begun his round seven off the lead. “This is probably the best I’ve felt going into the final round of a golf tournament, and certainly in the final round of a major championship.”
Weir carded a three-over 75 and had to settle for second place at three under, one stroke clear of 2001 US PGA champion David Toms and 2000 Masters winner Vijai Singh, who produced matching rounds of 70 to finish on 214.
Saturday is traditionally known as “moving day” in Major championships and, in the sun-baked conditions at Augusta National, Woods responded by relentlessly moving into contention for the first of the year’s four Majors.
Chasing his ninth career major, Woods completed a secondround 73 in the morning that just kept him in the tournament at five over — and 11 strokes off the lead.
The last time he failed to play the final two rounds of a major was at the 1996 Masters as an amateur. He has now gone 102 tournaments without missing the cut, the third best record on the PGA Tour after Byron Nelson, on 113, and Jack Nicklaus, on 105.
Woods struggled with his putter during the second round but he hit back with three birdies in his first six holes after teeing off at the 10th.
He holed a 50foot putt for birdie at the parfour 11th, and then took full advantage of the two par fives on the back nine, collecting birdies on 13 and 15 to move to three under for his round. “I made a big putt there on 11 and got something going,” said Woods. “Today I knew, if I could just get things going, that I could get back in this tournament.” (Reuters)