Tiger Woods makes his way up the leaderboard.
Golfweek, USA Today Sports
AUGUSTA, Ga. – When all was said and done at the halfway point of the 2019 Masters, the leaderboard looked like it had been dropped from the heavens by the gods of golf.
For the first time ever, five major champions were tied for the lead of a major championship. And lurking one shot behind were two more major winners, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. How could anything get better than that?
Then Saturday came along, and the Masters outdid itself. As good as Friday was, what this first men’s major of the year gave us Saturday, teeing up Sunday’s Breakfast at the Masters, was even better.
It was the lowest scoring day in Masters history, a collective and surreal 80-under par, and it produced the tantalizing story line of Woods playing himself into Sunday’s final group with his own personal gem of a round, a five-under 67.
That was good, but the two men who will be playing with Woods Sunday were even better Saturday. Italy’s Francesco Molinari, the reigning British Open champion and one of the quintet of leaders when the day began, shot 6-under 66, while the powerful Tony Finau, teeing off an hour and a half before Molinari, set the tone of the day by firing a 64. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a total of 19-under par for the three of them on the day.
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This scorching-hot trio will be playing together — Molinari at 13-under for the tournament, two strokes ahead of Finau and Woods – because the weather is expected to be so bad Sunday afternoon that the Masters decided to begin play at 7:30 a.m. Sunday – and not in twosomes. Threesomes will go off both the first and 10th tees, with the final group beginning bright and early at 9:20.
“I’ve got nothing else to do in the morning. It’s better than waiting around,” said Brooks Koepka, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion who is lurking just three shots behind Molinari after firing a quiet 69 Saturday. He tees off in the second-to-last group at 9:09 a.m. with Webb Simpson, who also fired a 64, and England’s Ian Poulter, who shot 68. Both Simpson and Poulter are four behind Molinari.
The possibilities are so enticing that it made perfect sense to have little more than a 12-hour wait from the end of Saturday’s historically low round to the start of one of the most anticipated final rounds in memory. Why wait another minute?
With so many men in contention to win, it seems silly to focus solely on Molinari and Woods, but you almost can’t help doing it because just two majors ago, they were paired together in the final round — at last summer’s British Open — with Molinari prevailing for his first major title, beating Tiger by two strokes on the day and by three overall.
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It’s only natural to be intrigued by the rematch, but that could be foolhardy, Molinari said.
“There’s a lot of guys playing great,” he said. “It’s going to be a battle. The course was getable today. If it’s getable Sunday, someone will shoot seven, eight, nine under. There’s him (Woods). There’s lots of guys. I wish I had to worry only about him.”
Past being prologue, Molinari is probably right. It could get downright crazy out there Sunday, if only because that’s exactly what happened Saturday.
How good was that third round? By the time the final twosome, Molinari and Jason Day, teed off, they already had lost their lead. They weren’t tied for second or third or fourth. They were tied for fifth.
The five leaders went this way and that. We know about Molinari, steady as they come, with only one bogey in the first three rounds, that coming Thursday on the 11th hole. Koepka too: His 69 seemed so routine, you had to wonder if he really wasn’t the favorite on Sunday if he plays the way he is able.
Louis Oosthuizen was a puzzlement, good but not great, shooting 1-under on the day. Adam Scott shot even-par 72, with this refrain: if only he could make a putt. And Day, playing in the last group, had his moments, but a double bogey on 15 and bogey on 18 left him shooting one-over, seven strokes off the lead.
Golf has a fascinating way of reshuffling the deck from one day to the next. Asked what to expect and who will win Sunday, Molinari had no idea.
“The favorite is probably the golf course out there, waiting for us.”
And us with it.