AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Was there ever any doubt? Tiger Woods did nothing eventful for the first two rounds at the Masters, and still he was lurking. Now, after Saturday's bogey-free 68--a score he said was the highest possible he could have posted--the world's best golfer has shed some fellow challengers and cast himself as a realistic contender on what promises to be a blustery Sunday. The last man to win a Masters from beyond the top 10 after 36 holes was Jack Nicklaus in 1986. So, if chasing Trevor Immelman, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Flesch and Paul Casey--nary a major title among them--doesn't get Tiger's attention, surely another crack at The Golden Bear's legacy should appeal to Woods.
"I've got some work to do," said Woods, following a par from the pine straw right of No. 18, as he had on Friday. And the leaders have some worrying to do. Woods hit the ball very nicely Saturday, but he made only one putt of note. He has yet to find comfort on the greens. That is a warning. Woods began the round seven shots off Immelman's lead, but Tiger's fans--including members of his inner circle--were pumped for some electricity, even after an early afternoon storm passed. Tiger birdied No. 2, but despite scorching his tee ball on Nos. 7 and 8, missed birdie putts.
Still, he posted 35 on the front nine, and then when he birdied No. 10, finally cracked the leader board at T-9, five shots off the pace. His putter was not an ally. The rains had softened the greens, and he was not dialed in on pace. But he also had an occasional misread, such as on No. 11, where he left a 45-footer well wide. He converted for par, but only after making things hard on himself.
The difference between good and not so good is so fractional at Augusta National, as witnessed by No. 16 Saturday when Woods struck what appeared to be a fine 8-iron toward a back right pin. The ball landed to within five feet, then peeled off and retreated to the front of the green. He could have been putting for birdie. Instead, he did well to get down in three from 55 feet. A few minutes later, having pounded another drive on No. 17, he had his second kick-in birdie in as many days.
After lofting a 7-iron through a keyhole in the trees toward the 18th green, Woods was seen striding sideways to get a view of the result. He looks quite confident. Would you want him coming up from behind you on Sunday?