AUGUSTA, Ga., April 10 -- Tiger Woods took control of the 69th Masters early this morning in the resumption of the rain-delayed third round with a stunning run of four straight birdies on his way to the best round of the tournament, a seven-under 65 that gave him a three-shot lead over faltering 45-hole leader Chris DiMarco going into the final round scheduled later in the day.
Woods performance long before most church bells had even started ringing put him in perfect position to end a run of 10 straight major championships without a victory -- going back to the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage. Each of his previous eight major victories came with him holding or being tied for the lead in the final round, including his three previous victories at Augusta National.
Tiger Woods emerges from the early Sunday morning mist to flip the top spots on the leader board, grabbing a three-stroke lead on Chris DiMarco going into the final round.
(Andrew Redington - Getty Images)
"It's been a while hasn't it?" Woods beamed a few minutes after signing his third round scorecard. "Most majors you won't make a whole bunch of birdies like that. But the greens are soft and receptive."
Told that he made 16 birdies in a run of 35 holes in his second and third rounds, Woods said, "That's not bad . . . It was a nice turnaround. Realistically, I didn't expect Chris would play the last nine holes like he did. But like I said yesterday, it can happen out here."
DiMarco began his round Sunday morning at 13-under through 45 holes and had a four-shot lead on Woods. But he posted a five-over 41 on the back nine this morning, including a double bogey on the first hole he played, the downhill, 495-yard 10th, a hole Woods had just birdied. Afterward, DiMarco insisted he "didn't feel like I hit a bad shot. I had a 2-iron 226 yards at the 10th and was just trying to hit something down the right side and pushed it and made double . . . That's what's crazy about this course . . . I'm very confident going into this afternoon. I hit a lot of quality shots (in the morning). We're talking feet, missing by feet, not yards . . . I'll try to play my game this afternoon. On the back side, if I have to start taking chances, I'll play for birdies."
Woods did exactly that this morning when the third round resumed at 8:05 a.m. He had already struck his tee shot at the 495-yard 10th hole when darkness halted play Saturday, a significant break for him because his ball was covered with mud. He arrived back at the same spot in the middle of the fairway Sunday morning with a spotless ball, hit a 6-iron to within 10 feet, then made the tricky downhill attempt for a birdie.
DiMarco teed off at the 10th right behind Woods and heard the cheer for Woods birdie putt from the several hundred spectators positioned behind the 10th green. DiMarco insisted he had not been unnerved by that sound, but from the middle of the fairway, on a slightly side hill lie, he hit a second shot 2-iron dead right into the middle of an azalea bush.
He had to take an unplayable lie and a penalty shot, hit his fourth to within six feet and missed the bogey putt, giving him a double bogey.
More significantly, it was a three-shot swing for Woods at the hole, getting him within a shot of what had been DiMarco's four-shot lead when they had started the round.
Woods hit his tee shot at the 11th hole dead right into the trees, but got a nice break when his ball landed in a clearing that give him a wide opening to the green. His second shot landed 15 feet from the hole, and of course he made that birdie putt to get to 11-under, celebrating with a roundhouse punch at the air with his right hand as he tied DiMarco for the lead.
It had taken only 22 minutes for Woods to make up the four-shot deficit, and as word of his second birdie spread around the course, hundreds of people began moving toward Amen Corner to see a little more history being made.
Woods rewarded them all with a gorgeous shot into the 155-yard 12th hole. And while DiMarco was making a routine par at No. 11, Woods made his 12-foot birdie putt to go to 12-under for the tournament, the first time he claimed the lead this week and only 31 minutes into the back nine.
Woods caught another huge break on his second shot from the middle of the fairway at the 510-yard 13th hole. His ball seemed headed for Rae's Creek fronting the green, and a huge groan went up from the thousands now gathered around as it disappeared down the bank. What most in the gallery couldn't see was that Woods' ball actually had come to rest on the downslope and not found water. He chipped his third shot from dry land up to about 10 feet, and made that putt, too, getting to 13-under for the tournament and nine-under for his round.
DiMarco, meanwhile, could only manage pars at 12 and 13 and was now trailing by two shots. Woods run of seven straight birdies, tying a record set by Steve Pate in the third round in 1999, finally came to an end when he three-putted from 55 feet at the 440-yard 14th hole, missing a 10-footer for his par. DiMarco could not take advantage, with a bogey himself, and both men also bogeyed the 500-yard 15th.
Woods had hit his drive at 15 into a thicket of relatively young pine trees and instead of laying up, he boldly went for the green. But this time, his ball did find the water, and he walked over to the drop area, flopped his fourth shot to within 12 feet and missed the par putt.
Woods closed out his 65 with three straight pars, and when DiMarco made bogey at the 17th, sandwiched between two pars, Woods had moved to a three-shot lead. DiMarco posted a five-over 41 on the back nine, but still was paired with Woods in the last group off in the final round starting at 3 p.m. Thomas Bjorn of Denmark was four behind Woods at 71-209 going into the afternoon, with Phil Mickelson (69-211) six off the lead and Vijay Singh (71-212) seven behind.