AUGUSTA, Ga. — It will be a Sunday afternoon like no other. The climactic stage of this Masters will be so different, in fact, that most of it will be on Sunday morning.
With a stellar field chasing leader Francesco Molinari, the final round figures to be dynamic and fast-moving — just like the fierce thunderstorms expected late in the day. The weather forecast is so threatening that Augusta National officials decided to try and beat it by dramatically moving up the tee times. The final group, which also features Tiger Woods and Tony Finau, will start at 9:20 a.m., roughly six hours earlier than normal.
“You can look at it both ways,” said Molinari, the 36-year-old British Open champion from Italy, who shot 6-under-par 66 to go 13 under for three rounds. “The positive is that, yeah, you don’t have to wait to tee off.
“But, you know, I try not to be too fazed by that sort of stuff. It’s still going to be the same course for everyone. I just need to do my things and do them well and see if that’s going to be good enough.”
Molinari again appeared unflappable, with his second consecutive bogey-free round. He has made only one bogey all week, on the par-4 11th hole Thursday, on his way to building a two-shot lead over Woods and Finau. The golfers will go out in threesomes rather than twosomes, also in an effort to move things along before severe thunderstorms might hit. CBS will televise it all live, starting at 9 a.m.
The makeshift schedule was not the best news ever for Woods, who is 43 and the veteran of four back surgeries and four knee surgeries. “I’ll wake up at 4, maybe 3:45, and start the process of getting this body going,” he said.
Woods certainly has given a wakeup call to this Masters, 14 years after his fourth and most recent green jacket. He followed Friday’s late surge into contention with another rally on Saturday. Through five holes, he was 1 under for the day and only 5 under for the week. Then his putter got going, as did the large crowd following him.
“I just did everything. I drove it well and hit my irons well. I made some putts. I just let the round kind of build,” he said after having birdied Nos. 6, 7 and 8, then 13, 15 and 16. “I don’t need to go after every single flag. Just put the ball in he correct spots so I can have gettable looks and gettable putts.”
Finau found the course exceptionally “gettable” as he birdied the first three holes and vaulted into the lead with an eagle on the par-5 eighth. He shot 8-under-par 64, one shot off the tournament record. He is fine with an early tee time, regardless of the fact his rental house is pretty busy for the golfer, his wife and their four young children.
“I do think that’s nice, not waiting around until 3 o’clock to tee off, kind of twiddling your thumbs,” said the man who finished fifth in the 2018 U.S. Open. “I remember when I was in the final group at Shinnecock, it was like the longest day of my life, and I still hadn’t teed off. There’s going to be guys on our heels, and I’m going to have to play good golf, no matter what time we play.”
Among the players on the leaders’ heels will be Brooks Koepka, who won at Shinnecock Hills and again at the PGA Championship outside St. Louis. His putting on Saturday was not as precise as it has been, but he still shot 69 and is 10 under.
Anyway, the lion’s share of the attention will be on the man who evokes shouts of “Tiger!” Woods said he will use momentum from his near misses at last season’s British Open and PGA. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in contention here, but again, the last two majors count for something . . . obviously, you’re always going to feel pressure. I’ve always felt it, from the first time I remember ever playing in a golf tournament to now. That hasn’t changed.”
Molinari, conversely, said he will not draw on the fact he defeated Woods at Carnoustie in July. “I think, to be honest, every tournament is different and every time is a different story,” he said. “It’s not like I can only worry about him. There’s a lot of guys with a chance. Hit the shots. Hit the middle of the clubface as often as I can and make smart decisions, and we’ll just take it from there.”