Woods in the Masters mix

2010-04-10 18:01
Tiger Woods
Augusta - Masters weekend opened on Saturday with the leaderboard resembling an intercontinental challenge.

Two Englishmen - Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter - lead the way at eight under par, but as they set off at 2:45 pm (1845 GMT) they will see ahead of them down the first fairway crowds 10-deep following the progress of Tiger Woods.

In the space of two days, the fallen superstar of world sports has succeeded in getting the focus back on what he does best - playing golf.

After rounds of 68 and 70, Woods will play for a third straight day with South Korea's K.J. Choi, who is also at six under.

Three others are on the same mark - US young guns Ricky Barnes and Anthony Kim, who will go out together, and two-time former winner Phil Mickelson, who will play with US PGA champion Yang Yong-Eun, the South Korean who is a further stroke back at five under.

In all 48 players made the cut, exactly half of the field that started the tournament on Sunday.

Woods, back in action five months after his life was turned upside down in a humiliating sex scandal that made headlines around the world, has been, in his own words, "plodding along." But despite all that has happened to him in recent months, it is clear that all the old confidence is still there.

Asked after completing his second round if he likes his position on the leaderboard going into the weekend, he shot back: "Yeah, I do. Yes." Playing partner for the first two rounds, Matt Kuchar, was left in no doubts.

"Boy, the oddsmakers got to like Tiger Woods," he said.

"He played solid golf. It was impressive. His all-around game looked great." A win for Woods here on Sunday would add to his legend, giving him a fifth Masters green jacket, one less than the record six of Jack Nicklaus, and a 15th major title, three shy of the record 18 won by Nicklaus.

He would also emulate the unique feat achieved by Ben Hogan in 1951 and 1953 of winning the Masters in his first tournament of the year.

Westwood and Poulter, though, both say they are ready to finally end the English drought in the majors, which dates to the third of Nick Faldo's Masters triumphs in 1996.

The best of friends, they will be comfortable in each other's company in the final pairing.

European number one Westwood, who has been the most consistently good golfer in the world over the last 12 months, believes the time is ripe for English success, pointing to the world rankings which show himself, Poulter and Paul Casey all in the top 10.

"We ought to be contending in these major championships in these biggest events where the best players should contend," he said.

The problem is getting over that final hurdle in a major, which he has failed to do in the past, most notably at last year's British Open where he let slip a winning position in the last two holes.

In contrast, Woods and Mickelson have 17 major titles between them and they will lean on those experiences over the weekend, when the perfect weather conditions that are forecast presage a shot-makers' paradise.

Mickelson feels he is ready to strike.

"I've rolled the ball so good these last few days and caught so many lips," he said.

"As soon as a couple of those 12-to 15-footers start to fall, I can get into the mid-60s."

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