Tiger Woods threatened golf’s record books as the Masters, by tradition, truly got going on the back nine on Sunday. But on this occasion there was a difference – the back nine was the completion of the third round and the leaders teed off at the tenth at 8am!
However the drama was every bit as exhilarating as on many a Sunday afternoon as Woods, who started out four shots behind leader Chris DiMarco, found himself two ahead by 8.45am and within striking distance of beating Major golf's record low score of 63.
DiMarco, who was 13 under par setting out, double bogeyed the tenth while Woods, out in 31 on Saturday night, launched a blistering attack on the course by birdieing the tenth to get in double digits under par. He then dismantled the fabled ‘Amen Corner’ with birdies at the 11th, 12th and 13th to get to 13 under par and two ahead of the field.
The course record stands at 63, and in fact no-one has ever lowered that score, but Augusta National can bite back, and even three-time Champion Woods was caught out. He dropped shots at the 14th and 15th then parred in for a seven under par 65 and 11 under par total of 205.
DiMarco, a regular contender at Augusta National, covered the back nine in 41 blows for a 74 and second place on 208 with Denmark’s Thomas Björn the leading European player on 209 after a round of 71.
Woods, who won the Green Jacket in 1997, 2001 and 2002, admitted: "I started well today and kept it going. I am in position but there are some disaster holes out there. I just tried to stay committed all day."
Björn birdied the 15th to get to eight under par but gave the shot back at the next to finish on seven under. Like many others in the field, he could read the warning signs for the final round.
"I don't think Chris (DiMarco) would have expected to be tied for the lead standing over his second shot at the 11th! It's the Tiger we know - although he did bring people back into it in the end.
"I mean, when he got to nine under for the round after 13 holes, then you even start thinking what he can do. Obviously he made seven birdies in a row and that's special and you can't help being aware of it.
"There are still nine holes to go before this tournament starts. It's always been like that and probably will be again today. Unfortunately, there is a guy who, when he is in contention for major championships, doesn't seem to drop as many shots as other people."
DiMarco could only shrug off his onw misfortune by saying: "I told you what could happen. It shows what this course is all about."
South African Trevor Immelman, who over par at halfway, continued his dramatic progress by birdieing two of his last three holes to match Woods’s 65 and a share of fourth place with defending champion, Phil Mickelson, on 211 while Lukd Donald of England shot a 69 for a share of tenth on 214.
Immelman said: “It was the best round of my life. Everything was going my way and I got on a run and thought I would ride it as well as I could. Remember this is my third Masters and I am still only 25. I’m just a rookie!”
It was also a tough day at the office for England’s Ryder Cup player, David Howell, who partnered Woods in the third round. Starting out one behind Woods, Howell signed for a 76 for a one over par 217 total – but he felt enriched by the experience of competing alongside the American.
He said: "I was a bit nervous to start with and it wasn't from playing with Tiger. Just the general situation, I guess. It's easy the first few days but it's only natural when you get to this stage. I was watching him, obviously, but it didn't affect me. He is lovely to play with."