Maggert upstages protest

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 13, 2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. - The biggest buzz at Augusta National came from the players, not the protesters.

The Masters roared to life Saturday behind an unlikely leader - Jeff Maggert - and a familiar charge by Tiger Woods, who was one putt away from going home and wound up in great position to make history.

Maggert overcame a double bogey on No. 11 with five birdies over his final six holes for a 6-under 66, giving him a two-stroke lead over fast-fading Mike Weir.

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''This is a position you dream about,'' said Maggert, who has never held the 54-hole lead in a major championship.

Woods, fighting for the right to keep playing, made the cut on the number and then blitzed Augusta National for a bogey-free 66 that left him only four shots behind.

No one has ever won three straight Masters. No one has ever trailed by 11 shots after 36 holes and gone on to win at Augusta National.

None of this seemed plausible when Woods stood behind a small pine tree in the ninth fairway on his final hole of the second round. He managed to squeeze a shot under the shoulder-high branches and scratch out a par just to make the cut.

That was only the appetizer on a spectacular day of sunshine and golf, which proved to be far more appealing than a tepid protest against Augusta National's all-male membership that took place a half-mile down the road.

Sunday was shaping up to be even better.

Maggert has won only once in the previous nine times he has led going into the final round, and there were plenty of stars lurking behind.

Weir, who had a six-stroke lead at one point, staggered home with a 39 on the back for a 3-over 75 and was at 213.

Vijay Singh, who won the Masters three years ago, and former PGA champion David Toms each had 70 and were another stroke back.

Woods had some familiar company at 1-under 215 - Phil Mickelson, who made crucial par putts on the final three holes, the last from 20 feet that suspended on the back lip of the cup before falling. That gave Lefty a 72 and another chance to win his first major.

Cheers crisscrossed Augusta National, but they were never far from Woods.

He started the third round at 5 over par with 42 players in front of him. When he played the last of his 26 holes Saturday, he was in a tie for fifth.

Woods proved to be a prophet.

''If I can be even par or under par, I'll be right where I need to be,'' he said after walking off the ninth green, relieved to have made his 102nd consecutive cut.

He is right there, four strokes and four players separating him from slipping on the green jacket for the third straight year.

It was quite a show - unlike the demonstrations down Washington Road.

Martha Burk had been pointing to Saturday of the Masters for her National Council of Women's Organizations' protest.

About 40 people joined the cause, a group that was outnumbered by police and media.

''You've got to make a choice - is it discrimination or is it dollars,'' Burk said, threatening to boycott companies whose executives belong to the club. ''Today we are protesters with placards. Tomorrow, women will protest with their pocketbooks.''

People will probably pay top dollar for a Masters ticket Sunday.

While Woods commanded most of the attention, he was among 16 players within six shots of the lead going into the final round.

Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, a forgotten man in golf this year, quietly crept into contention with a 71 and also was at 1-under 215.

Len Mattiace (69), Jim Furyk (71) and Jonathan Byrd (71), who grew up about 30 miles away in South Carolina and is playing his first Masters, were at 216.

As usual, Amen Corner was up to its old tricks.

Woods finally found some momentum at No. 11 by holing a 50-foot birdie putt that made a left turn as it got to the hole and dropped. On the par-5 13th, his second shot somehow stayed out of the water and he chipped close for birdie.

Others weren't so fortunate.

Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie was four strokes out of the lead until Amen Corner left him cursing - a double bogey on No. 12, a triple bogey on the 13th.

U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes, the first amateur in 42 years to play in the final two groups on the weekend at the Masters, was also at 2 under and zeroing in on the lead when he took double bogey on the 12th.

Barnes shot 40 on the back for a 75 and was at 2-over 218.

Weir paid a steep price. His approach into the 11th plugged into the side of the hill inside the hazard line, and he played a delicate shot to limit the damage to a bogey. Two holes later, he went for the 13th green and landed in Rae's Creek to make another bogey.

The tenacious Canadian is far from out of it. He has trailed going into the final round in all five of his PGA Tour victories, two of them earlier this year.

Maggert was a victim, too, when he took double bogey on No. 11. With quiet confidence, he struck back quietly.

His birdie blitz might have been a real show-stopped if Maggert had not three-putted for par on the 15th. Still, he hit his tee shot to 5 feet on the par-3 16th, made the first birdie of the round on No. 17 from 15 feet and closed out his 66 from 20 feet on the 18th.