AUGUSTA: Francesco Molinari fired a flawless six-under par 66 on Saturday, seizing a two stroke lead over Tiger Woods and Tony Finau in a thrilling Masters third round at Augusta National.
Italy’s Molinari, the reigning British Open champion, stayed patient through five opening pars as birdies broke out everywhere on rain-softened Augusta.
After birdies at six and eight, he erupted with four straight birdies starting at the par-three 12th — where his tee shot left him inches from the pin.
He methodically rolled in putts of six, eight and nine feet to birdie the next three — and maintained his two-shot edge by getting up and down for par from a bunker at 18.
Molinari, one of five major winners to share the overnight lead, had a 13-under total of 203.
Woods, who won the last of his four Masters titles back in 2005 and hasn’t added to his tally of 14 majors since his 2008 US Open victory, carded a five-under par 67 for an 11-under total of 205.
He was joined by Finau, who fired a 64 — one shot off the tournament record owned by Greg Norman and Nick Price and matched by two other eight-under rounds from Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay.
Lurking one shot further back is twice U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who scrapped his way to a three-under 69 to trail Molinari by three.
Simpson joined Ian Poulter (68) at 9-under 207, four shots behind and very much in the picture. The group another shot back included Dustin Johnson, who only made birdies on the par 5s and bogeyed his last hole for a 70.
Woods was also slow to join the birdie bandwagon, opening with four straight pars before a bogey at the fifth.
He responded with three birdies in a row starting a the sixth. At the seventh he stuck his approach a foot from the pin and he rolled in an 11-footer at eight.
He kept the momentum going with a par save from the trees at nine before a birdie at 13.
Woods got up and down for birdie at 15, where his chip on left him two feet, and he reached 11-under with a seven-foot birdie at the par-three 16th.
Famed for dislocating his ankle celebrating a hole-in-one at last year’s par-3 contest, Finau will now be remembered for matching the Masters record for the lowest front nine.
He joins five others — Johnny Miller, Greg Norman, K.J. Choi, Gary Woodland and Phil Mickelson — who have all carded 30 over the first nine holes.
Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2019