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THE MASTERS

Immelman stays up on Woods

Leader gets a break when his ball doesn't roll back into the water on the 15th hole, and he has a two-shot lead, six over the favorite.

April 13, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It wasn't only cheers raining through the pine trees. It was also rain. And just as predictable as precipitation at the Masters, there was Tiger Woods raining his ball out of a tree jail at the 18th hole, dropping it gently onto the 18th green at Augusta National, delivering a special delivery message.

He's still around.

Woods isn't in the lead of the Masters as the final round begins today, but after his four-under-par 68, he has managed to get everyone's attention.

Woods is six shots behind leader Trevor Immelman, and whether that's a manageable number, the answer may be blowing in the wind.

It's supposed to be blowing hard today, and maybe it'll give Immelman, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Flesch and Paul Casey something else to think about besides the fact that even though they're all ahead of Woods, none of them has won a major, while Woods owns 13.

The quartet has not achieved the fame of Woods, but at least a measure of that could change big-time by early this evening.

There was a 40-minute rain delay Saturday, but that didn't prevent Immelman from remaining as the pacesetter. His three-under 69 and a 54-hole total of 11-under 205 is worth a two-shot lead over Snedeker, three shots over Flesch and four over Casey.

To be the front-runner, you must have some good fortune, and Immelman certainly received his share at the 15th, where he managed to save par after his third shot spun back off the green and rolled slowly down the bank toward the water.

But the ball stopped on the wet grass and stayed dry.

"While I'm extremely fortunate that my ball stayed up there, there's a long way to go in this tournament," said Immelman, who finished his round with an approach shot to 2 1/2 feet and a birdie on No. 18.

"All I can ask of myself is to believe in myself and hope for the best."

Woods, who has never won a major when he trailed going into the final round, knows there is some ground to make up.

"I've got a lot of work to do tomorrow," Woods said. "The conditions are supposed to be pretty blustery and a little cooler . . . and you've got to hang in there and be patient because it doesn't take much to make a high number out here."

Ask Phil Mickelson, who began the day tied for third, but slipped to a 75 and into a nine-way tie for seventh place at two-under.

"It was a disappointing day, obviously," Mickelson said.

Snedeker bogeyed his way round Amen Corner, but pulled himself together nicely and finished with a birdie at the 18th and a 70. Flesch and Casey toured Augusta National in three-under 69.

Snedeker, who played the Masters once before, as an amateur in 2004, played the last five holes in three under.

"I hadn't hit too many bad shots and I knew I was rolling it great, so if I just gave myself a few chances I'd be fine," he said.

As usual, there is much on the line today on the last day of the first major of the year. Wind gusts as high as 35 mph are expected, and along with stiff breezes, the usual Masters mayhem is also part of the forecast.

The expectations for Woods never change, but it's going to be a lot different for Immelman as the man in charge. The 28-year-old from South Africa has only one PGA Tour victory and five more worldwide, but he's well known as a superior ball-striker. Countryman Gary Player has compared Immelman's swing to that of Ben Hogan.

Immelman had just one slip-up, a bogey at the par-three fourth, and birdied three of the four par-fives to stay ahead of the pack.

Immelman is only the 15th player to lead or share the lead each of the first three rounds. Nine of the other 14 went on to win, the last in 1980 when Seve Ballesteros did it.

If Immelman is grateful for his position, so is the left-handed Flesch.

"I'm just thrilled to be here," Flesch said.

Not long before, Woods wasn't so thrilled with his position.

The combination of Woods and trees sounds all right if you go by the words alone, but that's not really a great relationship on the golf course.

But Woods got the most out of his second trip in two days to the stand of trees guarding the right side of the 18th fairway. Once again Woods found a way out and once again he somehow saved par.

Instead of punching out to the 10th fairway and going that way to find the green as he did Friday, Woods swung a seven-iron, launched the ball over the trees from 117 yards and plopped the ball on the green and two-putted for his par.

Wearing a red cap and a black shirt, Mickelson arrived at the first tee 45 minutes after his scheduled tee time and put his drive in the fairway to start his chase toward a third Masters title. He birdied the second, but then started moving in the wrong direction.

Mickelson got into trouble when he missed the green at the sixth and made a bogey.

Soon, Mickelson was wearing a frown. At the par-five eighth, his luck deserted him. Mickelson hit the flagstick with his third shot and the ball spun back to the edge of the green. Instead of a relatively simple birdie putt, he three-putted for a bogey and then missed a four-footer for par and dropped to three under with a bogey at the 10th.

Mickelson came back, but then double bogeyed the 16th after he hit his drive into the back right bunker.

"I feel his pain," said Flesch, who played with Mickelson. "We've all been through it."

Few have been through majors the way Woods has, but with the ground he needs to cover, it may not matter. Four players ahead of him, six shots to make up, that's asking a lot even of Woods, no matter which way the wind blows.

--

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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