All set for dramatic finale

2009-04-12 18:10
Will Kenny Perry become the oldest Major champion?

Augusta - Final-round play at the 73rd Masters began Sunday with perfect conditions setting the stage for another dramatic finish on the undulating greens of Augusta National Golf Club.

American Kenny Perry, set to become the oldest champion in major golf history at age 48, and Argentina's Angel Cabrera, who could be the first to fire four sub-70 rounds in the Masters, shared the lead at 11-under par 205.

Tiger Woods, playing his first major tournament since returning in February after an eight-month layoff following left knee surgery, was among a pack lurking seven strokes adrift and only a longshot to win a 15th major crown.

"The whole key is to keep hitting good putts and hopefully they will go in," Woods said.

Woods, 14-for-14 in majors when leading after 54 holes but winless when he is not, has never shot lower than 68 in the final round at the Masters.

Adding to the tension surrounding Woods is the fact he is playing the last 18 holes alongside Phil Mickelson, a long-time rival with strained relations following an insult from Woods' caddie Steve Williams last December.

Prize money will be the same as last year, $7.5 million overall and $1.35 million to the winner, and yet the green jacket which goes only to the Masters champion remains a prize no amount of money can purchase.

The Masters leaders, set for early afternoon tee times, was light on prior major wins but long on experience at Augusta National and in dealing with the pressures that the final round of a major will bring.

Perry, whose mother Mildred is ill with cancer, lost a playoff to Mark Brooks at the 1996 PGA Championship and sees this as perhaps his last best chance to capture his first major title.

Cabrera won the 2007 US Open for his first major title, holding off Woods and Jim Furyk over the final holes, but has not won a top-level event since.

US veteran Chad Campbell, two strokes off the lead when play began, was runner-up to Shaun Micheel at the 2003 PGA Championship and finished third at the 2006 Masters but could finally make himself a major champion.

Furyk, fourth on 208 after 54 holes, won the 2003 US Open and is a perennial major contender, sharing fifth at last year's British Open with runner-up efforts in the 2006 and 2007 US Open and fourth in the 2006 British Open and 1998 and 2003 Masters.

American Steve Stricker, the 1998 PGA Championship runner-up who stands four back, missed the cut in five of eight prior starts but seems to have finally solved Augusta's challenges.

Todd Hamilton defeated Ernie Els in a playoff to win the 2004 British Open but the long-time Japan Tour veteran from the United States has done little since.

Level with US hopeful Hamilton on 210 are Japan's Shingo Katayama, bidding to become the first player from an Asian nation to win a major title, and South African Rory Sabbatini, the 2007 Masters runner-up.

South African Tim Clark, six off the pace on 211, is trying to break a Masters jinx and become the first man to win the Masters in the same year as winning the Par-3 Contest on the eve of the tournament.

Then comes a pack on 212 that includes Woods and Mickelson, the world number one and two players many hoped would be together in the final group rather than an hour ahead of them, plus England's Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter leading the European charge.

Giving them all hope was Jack Burke, the 1956 winner who recovered from eight strokes back in the final round for the victory in the greatest last-day comeback in Masters history.

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