Rivals concede it's fight for 2nd Golfers close to lead don't expect collapse

April 13, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Paul Stankowski has the best game plan for overtaking Tiger Woods in today's final round of the 61st Masters.

"If I can make five, six, seven birdies tomorrow afternoon, like in the first three holes, I can definitely put some heat on him," a joking Stankowski said. He is 10 shots behind Woods.

Then there was Costantino Rocca, who after a roller-coaster 2-under-par 70 finds himself at 6-under 210 and in second place -- nine shots behind Woods. "I think it's too far," Rocca said. "Maybe if I play nine and [each hole] in under par."

Nobody has suggested Woods be asked to play left-handed, but that might be the only way to stop the 21-year-old from winning his first Masters in his first major championship as a pro. Even the most accomplished players left on the leader board have basically surrendered.

Yet they hold the slightest hope that history -- in particular last year's bizarre final round when Greg Norman led by six shots after the third round and lost the biggest lead ever on a Sunday at Augusta National -- could repeat itself today.

But they're not counting on it happening.

"As I said in Butler Cabin [during a post-round television interview], he's a boy amongst men and he's showing the men how to play," said Tom Watson, once considered the greatest player in the world and a two-time champion here.

Asked if he had a chance to win for a third time, Watson said of his 11-shot deficit, "No, I don't think so. Stranger things have happened. Look at what happened last year, 78 [by Greg Norman] and 67 [by Nick Faldo], 11 shots. I guess there's an outside chance. It's not impossible, but it's highly improbable."

Tom Kite, who put himself in contention for second place with a third-round 66 and is tied with Watson, said that last year, "We gave this tournament away on Saturday night and unfortunately for Greg, it turned out not to be the case. So I don't know any of the players, especially those on the leader board, that are willing to go ahead and give him the green jacket at this time."

Colin Montgomerie, who played with Woods yesterday, seemed willing.

It was Montgomerie who came into the media interview room Friday night and talked about how he had more experience than Woods, and more experience playing in contention at major championships. He thought it would be interesting to see how Woods would handle the pressure.

When he came in last night, Montgomerie was talking only about the 18-hole victory march Woods would take today.

"All I have to say is one brief comment -- there is no chance," said Montgomerie, whose 2-over par 74 left him 11 shots back. "We're all human beings out here. There's no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way."

Asked why he felt that way, Montgomerie seemed incredulous by the question.

"Have you just come in, or have you been away?" Montgomerie said with a laugh. "Have you been on holiday or something?"

And how did Woods handle the pressure?

"He did," Montgomerie said.

Montgomerie was impressed with every facet of Woods' game. It was more than just his awesome length off the tees or obvious confidence. It was the way Woods got out of trouble on a number of holes, turning mistakes into magical recoveries.

"I appreciate that he hit the ball long and straight," said Montgomerie. "I appreciate his iron shots were very accurate. I did not appreciate how he putted."

As he sat waiting to go on, Montgomerie seemed stunned by what he had witnessed.

Then he looked up at the scoreboard in the media interview room and noticed that it had posted his score as 4-under.

Montgomerie got up and corrected it, putting a 3 in its place.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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