AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | There are myths and memories of moving day at the Masters and while the third round is not always a magical moment, Saturday at Augusta National has written some of the most compelling pages in the history of golf. The stage appears to be set for another chapter well worth recording this weekend.
With major winners Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods riding high on the leaderboard, and Phil Mickelson in the mix, you could not ask for more star power.
That brings to mind some of the most exciting Saturdays in the 82 previous Masters. Thirty times the winner has trailed going into the final round and on several of those occasions a big third-round move positioned the player to win.
In 1949, Sam Snead went from T14 after 36 holes to T2 with a 67 then closed with another 67 to win by three strokes over Johnny Bulla and Lloyd Mangrum. Arnold Palmer was T6 after 36 holes in 1958 then moved into a tie for the lead with a 68. The King picked up the first of his four green jackets – and first major – with a 73 on Sunday to win by one stroke over Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins.
There have also been times when Saturday was not so much moving day as it was moving away day.
In 1959, Art Wall Jr. was T21 after opening 73-74 then moved to T13 with a 71 and won by a stroke over Cary Middlecoff with a 66 on Sunday. Bernhard Langer was T25 in 1985, climbed to T3 with a 68 and won by two over Seve Ballesteros, Raymond Floyd and Curtis Strange with another 68.
Charl Schwartzel was T12 after two rounds in 2011 when a 68 moved him to T2 and he won with a 66, two strokes better than Day and Scott. In 2017, Justin Rose shot 67 to move from three back to tied for the lead going into the final round before closing with a 69 and losing a playoff to Sergio García.
And last year, Rickie Fowler shot 65 on Saturday to move from seven back to five back but finished second, one stroke behind Patrick Reed, after closing with a 67.
A couple of the greatest Saturday rounds were by players who didn’t win. In 1967, at the age of 54, Ben Hogan shot 66 – 30 on the back nine with birdies on all of Amen Corner – to climb from seven strokes back to within two of the lead. But Hogan faded to 77 on Sunday and finished T10.
In 1986 – best remembered as Jack Nicklaus’ sixth and last Masters title at the age of 46 – Nick Price sizzled to a 63 in the third round to pull within one stroke of Greg Norman. Price’s Saturday move set a new course record, which Norman matched a decade later. Seve Ballesteros, who had the 36-hole lead, slipped back with a 72 then finished fourth, two behind Nicklaus, who went from T25 to T17 to T9 to victory with rounds of 74-71-69-65.
Ed Sneed had a share of the lead after opening 67-68 in 1979 and took first place alone after a third-round 69. But his closing 76 dropped him into a playoff with Fuzzy Zoeller and Tom Watson, won by Zoeller.
There have also been times when Saturday was not so much moving day as it was moving away day. When Hogan won in 1953 for the first of his three majors that year, his 66 on Saturday took him from one stroke ahead of Bob Hamilton to four strokes clear of Ed “Porky” Oliver. Hogan won by five over Oliver with a 69.
Woods’ 65 in 1997 was one of the most memorable moving day performances, although he already had the lead when he did it. Woods shot 40 on the first nine Thursday followed by a 30 to be three strokes behind John Huston after an opening-round 70. A 66 on Friday gave Tiger a three-stroke lead over Colin Montgomerie going to the weekend.
“There’s more to it than hitting the ball a long way,” Montgomerie said when he found out he’d play with Woods on Saturday. “The pressure’s mounting more and more. I’ve got more experience, a lot more experience, in major championships than he has. And hopefully I can prove that.”
All Woods did was shoot a 65 to Monty’s 74 to move out to a nine-stroke lead over Costantino Rocca after 54 holes. He won by 12 with a 69 on Sunday.
Montgomerie, looking very much like he’d just glimpsed the future – which he had – said on Saturday night: “All I have to say is one brief comment today: There is no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way.”
When a reporter reminded him that, a year earlier, Nick Faldo had trailed Norman by six strokes after three rounds only to win by five, Monty’s eyes grew wide and he glared at the reporter in disbelief.
“Have you just come in or have you been away?” Monty said. “Have you been on holiday or something or have you just arrived? This is very different. Faldo’s not lying second, for a start. And Greg Norman’s not Tiger Woods. When you add it all together, he’s nine shots clear and I’m sure that will be higher tomorrow.”
Monty was absolutely correct. What Tiger did on Saturday set the stage for an historic Sunday. That could be the case again this weekend. It’s moving day and big names abound – including Woods. Buckle your seat belts; this could be a wild ride.
Jordan Spieth, Paul Casey and Brooks Koepka walk the 16th hole at Augusta National. Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
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