Masters' Final Round Promises Thrills

Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson are tied for first place going into Sunday's final round of the Masters golf tournament after an exciting day on the green Saturday. The third round was filled with ups, downs and a few amazing shots.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Augusta, Georgia today, the big question heading into the final round of the Masters golf tournament is: how does it top yesterday? Normally, the third round is a mere prelude to Sunday's finale, but yesterday stood by itself as one of the great days in a major championship. Electrifying shots, roars from all corners of Augusta National Golf Club, and some of the biggest names in the game at or near the top of the leaderboard.

From Augusta, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: It was late in the afternoon, down in famed Amen Corner, the giant scoreboard changed again for England's Lee Westwood from 11-under-par to 12-under. Murmurs in the gallery: he's running away with it, it's his time. On cue, a roar from a nearby crowd. It came from the direction of the 13th green. The murmur now turned to chatter: that's Mickelson's group. Sounded like an eagle roar, which is louder and more spirited than a birdie roar.

Indeed, the man nicknamed Lefty, Phil Mickelson, had eagled number 13 and kicked Saturday into overdrive. He was now just three shots behind Westwood. Two under par eagles are a big deal. Two in a row? Golfers had done that only twice in Masters history - until yesterday.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: They were still buzzing around the 14th green, just minutes after Mickelson hit his second shot from the 14th fairway into the cup for back-to-back eagles. Now, 11-under, one behind Westwood, and on he went to the par-five 15th where he chipped his third shot over water, onto the green and - come on, you cannot be serious.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

GOLDMAN: No, it wasn't a third eagle in a row, but oh, so close.

Mr. PHIL MICKELSON (Professional Golfer): It went across the hole from my viewpoint but it was about eight inches behind it. But as it was crossing the hole, I was expecting it to disappear, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Alas, only a one-under-par birdie, but enough to pull Mickelson into a tie with Westwood. For Mickelson, incredible momentum. For Westwood, a five-shot lead gone poof - the kind of thing that can shatter a golfer's confidence. But not Westwood's.

Mr. LEE WESTWOOD (Professional Golfer): 'Cause what Phil Mickelson does is really out of my control. The only thing that I can control, as I've said all week, is what I do, where I hit it.

GOLDMAN: Westwood, in a bubble of solitude and concentration during the round, said he had no room for thinking about what somebody else was doing. Just the opposite with Mickelson.

Mr. MICKELSON: I do look at the leaderboard quite a bit to see who's doing what. I think it's fun. You see the roars and you try to figure out who did what and the leaderboard tells you.

GOLDMAN: Yesterday's leaderboard told the tale of lots of up and down performances, a function, Mickelson said, of the warm weather and what he called receptive greens, prompting a lot of players to take risks, like he did on 13 when he hit a long shot to the green instead of playing it safe. And Mickelson predicted more of the same today.

Mr. MICKELSON: I think the course is going to be set up similarly in that you can make some birdies and challenge some pins. I think it's going to be an exciting Sunday.

GOLDMAN: Mickelson and Westwood will be paired in the final group of the day. In 18 of the last 19 Masters, the champion has come from that final pairing, which would spoil a dream ending for Tiger Woods, who's tied for third, four shots back, and in the next-to-last group on the Sunday of his comeback tournament.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Augusta.

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