AUGUSTA, Ga. — 5:40 p.m.
Tiger Woods did something Saturday he hasn't done at a major in four years: He posted a score in the 60s on the weekend.
It could have been so much better.
Woods shot a 4-under 68 in the third round, sparking some of the loudest cheers of the day when made a remarkable birdie at the 13th hole after yanking his drive into the trees.
But Woods finished with a pair of bogeys, failing to take advantage of a fine 32 on the front side. He was 11 shots behind Jordan Spieth — and it could be an even bigger deficit by the time the leader finishes his round.
"I had my chances to make this a really special round today," Woods said. "Man, I had it going there for a little bit. I made a stupidly good birdie at 13 and a stupidly bad bogey at 14. You know, it all evens out."
Still, considering the mess his game was in just a couple of months ago, it's been an impressive showing. He had gone 18 straight weekend rounds in the majors without breaking 70 going back to the 2011 Masters, when he shot 67 in the final round.
Woods is not giving up, but he knows that it will be tough for anyone to catch Spieth.
"I'm going to have to post something low," he said. "It's in Jordan's hands right now."
Woods took two months off to work on his game after walking off the course at Torrey Pines in early February. He didn't even play a tournament before announcing just over a week ago that he would make his return at the first major of the year, and where he has won four times but not since 2004.
"I'm starting to get my feel back, my distance control and my shots," he said.
Rory McIlroy is realistic about his chances of completing the career Grand Slam this year.
McIlroy shot his best round of the week with a 4-under 68 at the Masters on Saturday, but bogeys on two of the last three holes left the world's top-ranked player a daunting nine shots behind leader Jordan Spieth.
Looking ahead to Sunday, McIlroy said, "I would need something around 61 or 62 to have a real chance."
No one has ever shot better than 63 in any major championship.
"I'm not sure that's going to happen, but we'll see," McIlroy said, trying to sound hopeful.
This was his first chance for the Grand Slam. Only 25, he's already won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
Jordan Spieth made the turn during the third round of the Masters still holding the same five-stroke lead he had at the start of the day.
The 21-year-old Texan wasn't nearly as dominant Saturday as he was the first two days. He made a couple of bogeys, including his first three-putt of the tournament. But a brilliant approach at the ninth set up a 5-foot birdie putt that gave him a 1-under 35 on the front side.
Spieth was 15 under for the tournament, still comfortably in front of Phil Mickelson and Charlie Hoffman.
Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy all shot 32 on the front side, pushing some of golf's biggest names into prime spots on the leaderboard, though they still faced daunting deficits.
McIlroy stumbled at the end of his round, bogeying two of the last three holes for 4-under 68. He was nine shots behind Spieth.
"I got off to a good start," McIlroy said. "Overall, felt like I played pretty well. Just a little disappointed at the way I finished."
Tiger Woods started the 13th hole by letting go of his driver and unleashing an epitaph.
He finished it with a rousing fist pump.
It seemed like old times at the Masters.
While Woods had a lot of work to do, he showed some of the old magic Saturday afternoon at Augusta National.
Woods yanked his tee shot alongside the creek that runs down the left side of the fairway, cursing himself and forcing CBS to apologize if viewers heard his salty language. But he was able to get it back into the fairway, then hit his third shot about 15 feet left of the pin. From there, he rolled in the birdie putt, setting off a wild ovation for the four-time Masters champion.
Woods was still seven shots off the lead, but considering the state of his game just a couple of months ago, it's been a remarkable performance.
He was 7 under and back in the mix at a major championship.
There was a lot of movement on the Masters leaderboard, provided by some of golf's biggest names, but the guy on top was still out front by five strokes.
Jordan Spieth came into Saturday having matched the largest lead ever at the midway point of the tournament, and he pushed it to six shots with a birdie at the par-5 second hole. Then, at No. 4, the young Texan three-putted for the first time all week, taking just his second bogey of the tournament.
Still, Spieth was at 14 under overall.
Charley Hoffman, playing in the final group with Spieth, made pars on the first four holes. Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson charged into a tie for second at 9 under with a run of three straight birdies beginning at No. 2.
Rory McIlroy shot 32 on the front side and got to 7 under with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 13th. And don't forget Tiger Woods, the four-time Masters winner. He also shot 32 on the front side and was 6 under overall.
Before the round, Spieth was on the practice green when he realized he was missing something: the right golf balls.
Spieth plays a Titleist golf ball with the number "2'' stamped on it for Saturday rounds, and he switches to the "1'' for Sunday. A few minutes before his tee time, his agent and an Augusta National member rushed into the locker room, looking like it was a state emergency.
A few minutes later, they emerged carrying two sleeves of balls.
"Got to have the 2s," agent Jay Danzi said.
The world's top-ranked player isn't giving up on his career Grand Slam.
Rory McIlroy shot a 9-under 63 over what amounted to a complete round at Augusta National — the back nine Friday, the front nine Saturday — to at least put a little heat on leader Jordan Spieth.
McIlroy made the turn in the third round of the Masters about the time Spieth was teeing off with a commanding five-stroke lead.
While Spieth insisted he wouldn't be watching the scoreboard, he surely noticed McIlroy making quite a charge. He rolled in an eagle at the second hole, and closed the front side with back-to-back birdies at the eighth and ninth.
McIlroy pushed his score to 6 under overall — eight shots off the lead. If he can post another low score on the back side, it would at least give Spieth something to think about.
Here comes Tiger Woods.
Taking advantage of Augusta National's soft greens after overnight rain, Woods ripped off three straight birdies starting at No. 2 to push his score to 5 under at the Masters. He nearly made a hole-in-one at the par-3 fourth, his tee shot stopping less than a foot for the cup for a tap-in 2.
Woods wasn't the only one going low Saturday.
Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler were both at 5 under for the round, while Rory McIlroy kept up his strong play from the back nine Friday by making an eagle at the second. All three of those players were at 4 under, still 10 shots behind leader Jordan Spieth but at least showing the course is ripe for some really low rounds.
Of course, Spieth has already shown what he can do in these conditions.
He set a 36-hole scoring with a 14-under 130, giving him a commanding lead going to the weekend.
Rickie Fowler surged up the leaderboard at the Masters on Saturday.
Fowler made five birdies on the first 11 holes, pushing his score to 4 under for the tournament, taking advantage of the conditions. The overnight rain that came through Augusta softened up the already birdie-friendly greens.
Of course, that still left him a daunting 10 strokes behind the leader, Jordan Spieth.
Fowler is used to contending at majors, though he has yet to win one. In 2014, he joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to finish in the top five of the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship in a single year.
Rory McIlroy also got off to a strong start, making an eagle at No. 2. He joined Fowler at 4 under overall.
After a stormy night, the sun broke through Saturday at Augusta National.
Steve Stricker was the first to tee off in the third round. Since an odd number of players made the cut, he's playing with a marker — club member Jeff Knox, who's a pretty good player in his own right. Knox holds the club record for members with a 61 and last year, filling the same role, beat playing partner Rory McIlroy — the world's top-ranked golfer — by one stroke.
A splash of overnight rain kept the greens soft, which should allow players to keep attacking the pins like they did the first two days. No one performed better than Jordan Spieth, who has a five-stroke lead after breaking the Masters record for lowest 36-hole score with a 14-under 130.
He'll tee off with Charley Hoffman in the final group at 2:55 p.m. EDT. All but six players are at least 10 strokes behind Spieth, including McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
Among those with early tee times, Bae Sang-moon of South Korea and Henrik Stenson of Sweden were both at 3 under for the round, taking advantage of the soft conditions. In fact, 14 of the 25 players on the course are at par or better in the early going, though things are likely to toughen up through the afternoon — especially if the wind picks up.
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