THE real thing is in January, but in Masters terms, this could be Australia Day. No Aussie in the event’s rich 77-year history has ended it wearing a Green Jacket, but a fitting may well be in store for either Adam Scott, Jason Day or Marc Leishman.
All three are in contention heading into the final round after an enthralling third circuit at Augusta that saw two Americans, Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar, emerge as threats to those Antipodean hopefuls. Argentine Angel Cabrera, the 2009 winner, pictured below, is another in the frame.
Snedeker and Cabrera both shot 69s for seven-under to lead by one from Scott (69), with Leishman, the surprise package, and Day both a further shot back. Tiger Woods, on three-under, has all of them in his sights.
Scott will be out to make amends for letting the Claret Jug slip from his hands last summer. He also knows it’s a great chance for an Australian to help erase the disappointment of Greg Norman blowing a six-shot lead here 17 years ago.
“We have never looked better odds wise other than 1996 and it’s going to be a hell of a round tomorrow,” said Scott.
Following a brilliant birdie-3 at the tenth, where he’d closed out a play-off four years ago, 43-year-old Cabrera held the lead on seven-under but then dropped two shots back-to-back, three-putting for the first time this week at the short 12th.
Day, the runner-up two years ago, then opened up a two-shot lead after following 12 straight pars with a first birdie at the 13th. His round soured with bogeys on the final two holes. It was Snedeker who closed the gap, the man who won the FedEx Cup last year then started out this season on fire bagging three birdies in four holes to set the clubhouse target of seven-under.
It was matched by Cabrera when he birdied two of the last three holes, the two leaders then left out on their own after Day dropped his first shot of the day at the 17th then three-putted the last as well for a 73.
The cynics had expected Leishman, winner of the Tennant Cup in Glasgow as an amateur nine years ago, to have disappeared by this stage. He’s a stuffy sort, though, and is only two back after his level-par effort.
Kuchar is in the Masters mix for the second year running. Twelve months ago, helped by an eagle-3 at the 15th, he just missed out on the play-off that saw Bubba Watson pip Louis Oosthuizen. Since then, the American has won the WGC-Accenture Match Play and now has his sights set on a first major.
“Hopefully the experience from last year and the continued good play throughout the year will help tomorrow,” he said after a 69 that contained five birdies.
Former Scottish Open champion Tim Clark, also using a belly putter, started the day in a tie for 37th but is up into the top ten after a best-of-the-day 67. The foundations were laid with a strong start as the 37-year-old from Durban covered the first seven holes in two-under.
“For me it’s really been about ball-striking this week,” said Clark. There didn’t appear to be much of that in an ugly 79 from Rory McIlroy, who came home on a stretcher after running up a triple-bogey 7 at the 11 then dropping two more shots by running up the same score at the 15th.