Lee Westwood will take a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson into the final day of golf’s Masters Tournament, where Tiger Woods trails by four strokes.
Westwood, seeking to become England’s second Masters champion after three-time winner Nick Faldo, shot a 4-under-par 68 in the third round at the Augusta National Golf Club today for a score of 12-under-par 204. Mickelson had a 67, including consecutive eagles, and sits at 11-under.
“I felt very calm out there today, confident in what I was doing,” Westwood said in a post-round television interview. “I’ve found what I think is the way to play the golf course which suits me best. I don’t think I need to veer from that.”
Woods closed with a birdie from about four feet to move into a tie with K.J. Choi for third place at 8-under. The two will be paired together for the fourth straight day in the next- to-last group.
Westwood will begin day four in the outright lead for the first time in 48 major championship appearances. He finished third in two straight majors last year, the PGA Championship and British Open, and has five career top-five finishes in the majors.
Westwood held a five-shot lead at 12-under after 11 holes, which evaporated within an hour.
Mickelson made eagle at the par-5 13th and holed out from 139 yards at the next for another eagle to reach 11-under. He’s only the third player in the 74-year history of the Masters to eagle consecutive holes.
Mickelson, the 2004 and 2006 Masters champion, followed with a birdie at the next to reach 12-under, just after Westwood bogeyed the 12th to drop back to 11-under.
Westwood then birdied the par-15 15th and Mickelson dropped a shot at the 17th to give the Englishman the advantage over the American going into the final day’s play.
“I haven’t played this well in a long time and I feel like my game’s as good as it’s been,” Mickelson said in a post-round television interview. “Today was a good day. I’ve been playing well and shot a good number that got me right in it and I’m excited about Sunday.”
In an erratic round, Woods recorded six pars and had seven birdies and five bogeys for a 2-under-par 70. Woods has never come from behind to win any of his 14 majors. He lost to Y.E. Yang in last year’s PGA Championship after holding the lead going into the final day.
“I just wanted to put myself in contention and I’ve done that,” Woods said in a television interview. “The guys were running away from me there. At one point I was seven back.”
Woods, after almost five months away from the game, is seeking to become the first golfer since the late Ben Hogan 57 years ago to win the Masters in his season opener. Hogan managed the feat twice, in 1951 and 1953.
Woods has had four top-10 finishes in Augusta since the last of his four Masters victories in 2005. He’s won six of 14 season openers since turning professional, while recording 12 top-10 finishes. His worst result in an opening tournament of the year came in his first U.S. PGA Tour event as a professional, when he tied for 60th at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open.
Victory tomorrow would leave him three short of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major wins.
Fred Couples, who fell to 3-under with a 75 yesterday after becoming the oldest leader of the tournament at the end of the first day, finished at 7-under after a round of 68.
“I have a shot at it tomorrow if I can shoot a crazy score,” said Couples, who has battled a balky back for the past few years. “I’ve just got one more day. I think I can get through it and hopefully I’ll play well.”
Hunter Mahan, Ricky Barnes and Ian Poulter are a further shot back.
Woods decided to step back onto the course this week after disappearing from the game following his admission of marital infidelity, which led to the unraveling of his personal life and status as one of the world’s most popular athletes. After a Nov. 27 car accident outside his home that led to intense focus on his family life, Woods said he entered a rehabilitation clinic to undergo treatment for “personal” issues.
Woods’s wife didn’t accompany him to the Masters, the first of golf’s four annual Grand Slam events.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Augusta, Georgia, at firstname.lastname@example.org