Tiger Woods overcame some front-nine struggles to birdie four of the final six holes, including three straight at Nos. 13-15, to shoot 70 and leave him tied with playing partner K.J. Choi for third place at 8-under 208. A shaky putter and loose shots off the tee resulted in four bogeys in seven holes at one point, dropping Woods to 5 under. His struggles led to several expletives that were aired live on CBS, outbursts he had vowed to tone down upon his return from his five-month layoff because of a sex scandal. After a poor tee shot on the sixth hole, Woods said loudly, "Tiger Woods, you suck." He cursed again on the next hole after a wayward approach shot. "I was fighting it all day," Woods said. "I really struggled with the pace of the greens and fighting my swing. It was a tough day." A wild drive off the 17th tee led to his fifth bogey of the round, but he came back with a brilliant approach shot at the final hole for a birdie that gave him his second straight 70. His game, and his attitude, improved later in the round with his three consecutive birdies. "I just wanted to put myself in contention, and I did that," said Woods, who will be paired with Choi for the fourth consecutive round today. "If I have a good round (today), you never know."
First-round leader Fred Couples, the back problems that hampered him Friday apparently manageable, rebounded with a solid 68 to get back into contention. Couples, 50, chipped in for eagle on the par-5 15th and added four birdies (including on the first two holes) against just two bogies to sit alone in fifth place at 7-under 209, five shots off the lead. The performance allowed him to bounce back from Friday's 3-over 75, after shooting his personal Masters best 66 on Thursday.
"I think I'm in pretty good shape," Couples said of his position heading into today's final round. "This is my favorite spot to play, and I'm very happy where I am. … I need to come out and play really well (today) to have a chance. I feel like I can come out under the pressure and hit it well." Regardless of today's outcome, Couples has committed to play in next week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz (see fact box, 2C).
A history lesson
One of sports' great icons will be awarded later today as the Masters green jacket is given to this year's champion. The jacket, valued at $250 and manufactured over the years by four companies — most recently by the Hamilton Tailoring Co. of Cincinnati — began its rise to fame in 1949 when Sam Snead became the first champion presented one. Club members first wore them during the 1937 Masters so they could be easily spotted by patrons. "We have jackets at other clubs," Jack Nicklaus, who owns a record six green jackets, told Newsday. "But none really relates to the tradition of here."
Among the customs: The previous champion puts the jacket on the new winner, unless he is a repeat champion (then the tournament chairman does the honors). The jacket used in the ceremony is borrowed from a member until a tailored one is ready. And the winner gets to keep it for a year.
Some jacket lore: Gary Player once neglected to return it after a year. Tiger Woods slept in it the first time he won it. Canadian Mike Weir wore it to center ice at a Maple Leafs game. And Trevor Immelman saw fans reduced to tears when they saw him with it at a Japanese airport.
• The inconsistency award has to go to Chad Campbell, who opened with 79, tied for low round Friday with 68, then ballooned to 80 on Saturday thanks to six bogeys and a double bogey. To make things worse, he was playing with 16-year-old Matteo Manassero, who shot 73.
• Golfers credited the perfect weather — specifically the lack of wind — for Saturday's low scores. The field had its best day of the week, averaging 72.583 strokes.
On his way
Englishman Lee Westwood is one round away from grabbing his first major championship, in what would be just his second win on the PGA Tour. Westwood birdied four of the first 10 holes Saturday to build a four-shot lead, but bogey on the par-3 12th and a dramatic eagle-eagle-birdie by Phil Mickelson left him briefly a shot behind. But Mickelson bogeyed No. 17 to drop the two into a tie. Westwood regained the lead with birdie on the par-5 15th then managed pars on the final three holes to shoot 68 (his third sub-70 round of the week after starting 67-69) and sit at 12-under 204, one shot ahead of Mickelson. "I think I'm ready," Westwood said of winning his first major. "I felt very calm out there (Saturday). … Every aspect of my game felt good. I know it's a position I wanted to be in. So I'm looking forward to (today)." Westwood leads the field with 18 birdies through three rounds, four better than second-best Ian Poulter, and owns the tournament's best greens-in-regulation percentage at 79.6 (43-of-54).
The winner of this year's Masters will receive $1.35 million, it was announced Saturday, out of a total purse of $7.5 million.
The rest of the top 10: