AUGUSTA, Ga., April 9 -- After two days of stormy gloom and very little golf, the 69th Masters finally blossomed in all its springtime glory Saturday. Chris DiMarco, so far impervious to all the stops and starts in play, continued to lead the tournament, opening a four-shot advantage by early afternoon after the completion of the second round at Augusta National, then maintaining that same margin over a hard-charging Tiger Woods when darkness finally cut short the finish of the third.
Most of the pre-tournament talk centered on the top four or five players in the world rankings. No. 15 DiMarco apparently was not paying much attention. He added his second straight 67 in the morning for a 36-hole total of 10-under-par 134 to take an early four-shot lead over Denmark's Thomas Bjorn (67 -- 138), then pushed to 13 under with a 15-foot birdie putt at the 570-yard No. 8 in fading light.
Chris DiMarco waves to supporters on the 18th green after finishing his second round with a 10-under-par 134 Saturday.
(Chris O'Meara - AP)
He parred the ninth hole and will start at No. 10 in the morning.
Woods, No. 2 in the rankings and attempting to end a drought of 10 majors without a victory, certainly lived up to his billing. After a 2-over 74 in the first round, he posted a tournament-best 66 in the second, improving his standing from 32nd to third. By day's end he was still in prime position to make a run at his fourth Masters title and ninth major championship, at 9 under through nine holes of his third round after a two-foot birdie putt at the 460-yard No. 9. It was his third straight birdie and gave him a 5-under 31 on the front side.
"You expect that, don't you," DiMarco said when asked about Woods's move up the board. "But if I make some birdies on the back tomorrow morning, I'll be fine. I'm going to go out and have fun tomorrow. If you stay patient, you'll have birdie opportunities, and that's just what I'll try to do. There are a lot of great players behind me, and I'll have to keep my foot on the accelerator."
Six of the 50 players who made the cut finished the third round. They will all return Sunday at 8 a.m. to finish the round, leaving the leaders to play as many as 27 holes Sunday.
Top-ranked Vijay Singh began the third round seven shots off the lead after a 73 -- 141 through 36 holes. He said he was pleased with his ball-striking, but not at all with his putting stroke after wasting several decent birdie opportunities.
Fourth-ranked Phil Mickelson bogeyed two of the last three holes he played in the second round and was eight shots behind at 72 -- 142.
When play was halted at 7:35 p.m., neither man had made a move, with Singh at 4 under after 10 holes and Mickelson at 3 under through 11 holes.
DiMarco has been here before, leading after each of the first two rounds in 2001 and after 54 holes last year, when he played in the final group with Mickelson. He finished tied for sixth and may best be remembered for giving Mickelson a good read on what would be his winning, 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole.
"Putting is the key here, period," DiMarco said, adding that with a four-shot lead, "I don't have to attack all the pins now. When you have that luxury and can play the safer shots, you can play well here. It's how I've always played here. I try to stay patient. I know the course. I know the slopes around the greens. I know you can play a slope that's 50 feet from the hole and leave yourself 12 feet. I've got to go out and control myself, control my nerves, slow myself down and try to hit really solid shots. There are a lot of birdies out there, but a lot of disasters, too."
DiMarco began the tournament Thursday with a bogey on his first hole and hasn't had one since, a run of 44 straight. He had five second-round birdies Saturday, padding his lead with a second shot to the 500-yard 15th green and two putts from 18 feet for a birdie, then a 12-footer that curled into the hole at the 170-yard 16th.
His best shot of the day may have been at the 490-yard 11th after a second shot that went dead right. From a downhill lie, and knowing a mis-hit might result in a ball running through the green to a pond down below, he chipped to within a foot of the cup to save a critical par.
Woods also began to hit his stride in the morning round, with birdies on two of his first three holes to get back to even par.
A pitching wedge struck to within four feet and a birdie putt at the 460-yard No. 9 got him back under par for the tournament, but his charge stalled slightly with a three-putt from 22 feet at the 440-yard 14th. He came right back with a two-putt birdie from 15 feet at No. 15, then made a 15-footer after a drive and a sand wedge second shot at the 425-yard 17th.
"It was a nice turnaround," he said after his 66. "As I finished up Friday, I felt like I was hitting some good golf shots, so I just wanted to keep that going. You just have to keep plugging along, keep putting yourself in position to make birdies. If you have the right number [yardage], you can go at some of these pins. The greens are still soft. You just try to make birdies here and there."
Bjorn ended his second round with birdies at the eighth and ninth holes and was still smoking at the start of his third round when he made a 12-foot birdie putt at the 435-yard first hole, then another 12-footer at the 350-yard No. 3, the shortest par 4 on the course. But the runner-up in the 2003 British Open slipped back to 7 under for the tournament at the 410-yard No. 7 when he three-putted from 12 feet, missing a 2 1/2-foot par putt. He got back to 8 under when he birdied the eighth with a 10-foot putt.
"It's obviously a long day," said Bjorn, who finished his front nine at 2-under 34. "It's been long days and long weeks the last few weeks. But you've got to remember it's the finest golf tournament in the world, so you get yourself up for the golf you do play, and you can't worry about the golf you didn't play."