Tiger pounces into title hunt

2006-04-09 09:04
Augusta - Defending champion Tiger Woods charged into the title hunt while Chad Campbell clung to a one-stroke lead when darkness halted on Saturday's rain-interrupted third round of the Masters.

Top-ranked Woods, chasing his 11th major victory and fifth Masters crown, birdied the par-4 third and par-5 eighth holes to reach three-under par after nine holes, three strokes off the lead entering Sunday's endurance test.

"I feel very good," Woods said. "I wish I was more under par. I've got nine holes to post a good round and get ready for the afternoon. Hopefully I can make some birdies and get something going."

Woods also played 27 holes on the final on Sunday last year to complete his last two rounds, then beat Chris DiMarco on the first playoff hole to win the title. He knows he can handle the mental and physical challenge.

"Last year I went 54 on the weekend. It's nothing new out here," Woods said. "I'm in condition for it. It's a matter of going out and executing."

Thunderstorms suspended play for four hours, forcing the leaders to tee off in the late afternoon and finish in twilight gloom, setting the stage for another dawn-to-dusk Sunday duel at Augusta National Golf Club.

Campbell began the day with a three-stroke lead and opened with two birdies but finished with two bogeys to remain at six-under par when darkness came, one stroke ahead of fellow American Rocco Mediate and South Africa's Tim Clark.

"It has been a long day for four holes. I would have liked the day to have gone a little smoother but it didn't cooperate," said Campbell, concerned about the task ahead.

"It's daunting. It's going to be a little bit tougher," he said. "Eighteen holes is tough enough so 32 is going to be a real challenge."

Woods was three back along with Ireland's Padraig Harrington and American Phil Mickelson, the 2004 Masters and 2005 PGA Championship winner. Mickelson followed three birdies with two bogeys. Harrington birdied twice in six holes.

Three-time major champions Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, two-time major winner Retief Goosen, 1992 Masters winner Fred Couples and Canada's Stephen Ames, who won the Players Championship two weeks ago, were all four back on two-under.

Woods, Singh, Goosen, Mickelson and Els - atop the world rankings in that order - will pressure Campbell, whose only major threat was as the 2003 PGA Championship runner-up to Shaun Micheel.

"Those guys do have a lot more major experience with the wins. But I would like to start somewhere," said Campbell.

"I'd say it's more mental than physical (pressure). It'll be tough walking around there but when you're in contention you don't notice it. You don't have to run."

Woods dropped a wedge shot inches from the cup at the par-4 third hole to birdie and put backspin on a tricky chip for a four-foot birdie at eight. He also sank a 12-foot par putt at three and and eight-foot par putt at seven.

"I kept the momentum going and I am right there in the picture," Woods said.

"You know guys are going to be making a lot of birdies out there. The greens have been receptive. With soft conditions like this you can make some birdies."

South African Clark birdied the first two holes, lipped out a birdie putt at three, birdied the fifth and then blasted his tee shot at the par-3 sixth four feet from the cup, setting him up to match Campbell's lead when play resumes.

"The way I'm playing certainly bodes well," said Clark, rejecting a favorite's role. "Certainly not me. It's going to be someone who's fit. It will probably be the one who is most patient... somebody who doesn't make any big numbers."

Mediate, 43, had two birdies in four holes. He has battled back pain his whole career but vowed he could handle the strain of 32 holes on the lengthened course, which at 7,445 yards is the second-longest layout in majors history.

"I'll crawl around here if I have too. I've made it this far," Mediate said. "I have to do something pretty special to win this golf tournament. The big guns, they can come out and do something normal."

As for Woods, Mediate said, "As long as he's upright, he's close."

Forecasts of thunderstorms did not spur Augusta National officials to begin the round earlier than planned so more players could complete more holes before the storm arrived.

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