The Masters: Machine-like Francesco Molinari has a Tiger on his tail

Tiger Woods smiles as he walks on the 18th hole during the third round at Augusta National. Picture: Getty Images
Tiger Woods smiles as he walks on the 18th hole during the third round at Augusta National. Picture: Getty Images
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It could be one of the greatest tales in sporting history - but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Yes, Tiger Woods is in a great position to cap a remarkable comeback from a series of back surgeries by winning a fifth Masters.

Francesco Molinari acknowledges patrons during the third round of The Masters. Picture: Getty Images

Francesco Molinari acknowledges patrons during the third round of The Masters. Picture: Getty Images

Doing so would see him bridge a 14-year gap at Augusta National and also give him a 15th major title nearly 11 years after landing the last one.

Make no mistake, Woods has been magnificent over the opening three days here, sending roar after road echoing around the towering pines.

This is the third major in a row that the 43-year-old has got himself in the mix, having challenged in both The Open and US PGA last year.

He’ll fancy his chances of getting the job done, that’s for sure, and why not? With a similar whiff of victory in his nostrils, Woods was mighty impressive in winning the Tour Championship in Atlanta last September.

But, of all the titles Woods has landed in his glittering career, this one could be the toughest of them all to close out.

For starters, he’s two shots off the lead and that just happens to be held by Francesco Molinari, who fears no-one these days, including Woods.

The pair were in the same group in the final round in The Open at Carnoustie last July and the Italian didn’t flinch as he got his hands on the Claret Jug.

He’s gone from strength to strength since then and now has a second major victory in his sights.

The 36-year-old was bogey-free over the weekend when he came out on top in Angus and has gone 43 holes here without a slip up. Put simply, Molinari has become a golfing machine.

It’s not just him that Woods has to worry about. After a 64, Tony Finau is also in the mix on 11-under. Brooks Koepka, who has won three of the last seven majors, is lurking ominously on 10-under.

Others still in with a chance of spoiling that Tiger storyline include Ian Poulter and Webb Simpson, as well as Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Harding, Xander Schauffele.

The final round will start early due to the threat of “severe weather”. Play will get underway at 12.30pm UK time, with the leaders heading out at 2.20pm UK time.

The players will go out in groups of three while a two-tee start will be in place as well. All eyes will be on Woods as he heads out along with Molinari and Finau.

“I putted well today,” said Woods after carding a five-under 67 - his best round here since closing with the same score in 2011.

“It was a case of getting the speed better because I had the lines and they started going in. I got on a roll after a bogey at five. The only putt I missed was for eagle at eight, but that was a good putt.”

On giving himself a third chance in less than a year to win a first major since the 2008 US Open, he added: “That was the plan and here I am!”

“This will be different,” he said of the early start. “We normally get a sleep in when we are in one of the final groups, but it will be an early wake-up call.

“I will probably be up at 3.45 to start the process of getting this body ready and getting at it.”

Molinari hasn’t dropped a shot since the 11th hole on Thursday. “I can only be happy about today,” said the leader after carding a 66 that was illuminated by four birdies in a row on the back nine.

“It is going to be exciting. He [Woods] is obviously playing great but a lot of guys are playing great. I wish it was only him I had to worry about.”

On the lowest-scoring day in the event’s history - the field was a combined 80-under-par - Finau made his move with a 64, matching earlier efforts from Simpson and Patrick Cantlay in the easiest conditions of the week.

Finau was also in the final group in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills last year - but this chance is a dream come true for the American.

“As a kid, I always wanted to compete against him (Woods) and I’ve dreamed of playing in the final group with him in a major championship. It will be cool.”

It promises to be some final day, so strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.