Originally created 04/14/02

From the lead, Tiger sees green



While Tiger Woods' fans belted out a chorus of "You da man, Tiger!" after he hit his approach shot to the 18th green, caddie Stevie Williams was singing a wishful tune as he turned his eyes skyward and began tracking the ball on its fateful flight.

"He says, 'Get in the final group!"' Woods said of Williams' enthusiastic plea. "My ball just took off, and he knew it was a good shot the way I hit it. He was just being typical Stevie."

He also was being prophetic. The shot left Woods with a 12-foot putt for birdie. He buried it, setting up an intriguing final pairing with Retief Goosen in today's final round of the 66th Masters Tournament.

As the defending Masters champion was telling the story at 18, he was trailing Goosen by one stroke. Woods fired a 6-under-par 66 in Saturday's third round, putting him in the clubhouse at 11-under for the tournament.

A few moments later, Goosen found trouble on 18, hitting his drive into the trees along the right of the fairway. He ended up with bogey, giving Woods a share of the lead at the end of the day.

Asked to explain the value of playing in the final group, Woods said it was "just a goal." His track record under pressure suggests it is even more important.

Woods has held or shared the lead at 24 PGA Tour events entering the final round. He has won 22 of them, including his two Masters titles and all six of his major championship victories.

But after a long and grueling day that began with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call and ended after 14 hours and 26 holes of golf, Woods said all he wanted Saturday was to get to at least 10-under.

"And I got there," said Woods, who played the final eight holes of his rain-delayed second round early Saturday morning before returning to the course for Round 3 at 1:50 p.m. "Whether that was going to put me in the lead or not, I felt like I would be within striking distance."

Woods did himself one better. He made seven birdies and only one bogey for his 66, the low round of the day. It also matched his second-lowest round in eight Masters starts and gave him a tournament-record nine consecutive subpar rounds.

Another Masters feat is within his grasp. With a victory today, Woods would become the third player to win consecutive green jackets (Jack Nicklaus in 1965-66, Nick Faldo in 1989-90).

"He's going to be the guy to beat," said Goosen, 3-under for the third round. "But I'm going to play the course the way I've been playing it. You can't hit the way Tiger hits it. I'm going to be 30 yards behind him tomorrow. I'm just going to have to try and get in there close and put pressure on him."

But Woods thrives under pressure. The proof is in the closing rounds of his six majors.

"I've been there before," Woods said of his place in the final pairing. "And I look forward to it."

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.