Woods laps field, speeds into history 21-year-old ties 54-hole Masters mark to lead by record 9

Hot putter extends lead

With victory, he'd be 1st black to win major

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

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Around the time Tiger Woods made the turn yesterday afternoon at Augusta National, the 61st Masters ceased being a golf tournament and started becoming a historic event. It wasn't merely what Woods had done to the field and the course, destroying both with an eerie calm and a red-hot putter.

It was what Woods was about to do to the legacy of the tournament, the club and the sport.

Barring an unforeseen collapse here this afternoon, Woods, 21, will become the first black player to win the Masters or any of golf's Grand Slam events, as well as the youngest champion here. That he will do it in his first major championship as a pro, the way he will do it, and where he will do it, is also part of his amazing saga.

With a 7-under-par 65 in the third round for a total of 15-under 201, Woods will take the Masters' largest lead ever into the final round. Woods leads Costantino Rocca of Italy by nine shots and Paul Stankowski by 10. Former two-time champion Tom Watson and former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite are 11 shots behind.

The anticipated victory by Woods would be his fourth on the PGA Tour since turning pro last summer and his second this year. It would come 22 years after Lee Elder became the first black player to qualify for the Masters and six after the club invited in its first black member. Elder, who went on play six times in a stretch of seven years, is expected to be here today for what will be one of golf's transcending moments.

Even Woods has a sense of what he is about to accomplish -- and he isn't just talking about the possibility of breaking Jack Nicklaus' and Ray Floyd's tournament record of 17-under par 271. Nicklaus set it in 1965 and Floyd equaled it in 1976. Just as Woods is a student of the game, watching old tapes of former champions at work, Woods is also aware of the social significance his victory would have.

"It means a lot, I guess for a number of reasons," Woods said. "It means a lot because I would have won. I would have become the youngest ever to win. But I think more importantly, in my estimation, it's going to open up a lot of doors, a lot of opportunities and draw a lot of people into golf who never thought of playing the game. And, I think on this kind of stage, I think it's going to do a lot for the game as far as minority golf is concerned."

Charlie Sifford, one of those who never was able to play in the Masters, said in a statement released by the PGA Tour, "It would make my dream come true for him to win Sunday. I tried so hard for the opportunity to play there. I am not angry about it. The people of Augusta had their rules and I can respect that. I stood up for what was right and I am not ashamed of it. I would do the same thing over again."

Woods is doing things to a course that no player -- black or white, American or foreign-born -- has done before. His last two rounds of 13-under 131 are the best consecutive middle two rounds ever played. Since starting with a 4-over 40 on the front Thursday, Woods has played the past 45 holes in 19-under.

After obliterating the course's fabled back nine on the first two days, Woods did nearly the same thing to the front nine yesterday. The side on which he struggled in the opening round fell victim to Woods' incredible putting and toughness. He played the front in 32, with four birdies, no bogeys and two long putts to save par. He had three more birdies on the back, finishing the round with one after hitting a sand wedge to within a foot on the final hole.

With the biggest third-round lead in Masters history -- one shot better than Floyd had in 1976 -- it doesn't seem that Woods will have the problems that last year hampered Greg Norman, who self-destructed and lost a Masters record six-shot lead. It seems more likely that Woods will beat the record margin of victory set by Nicklaus in 1965.

"There is no chance. This is different [than last year]," said Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, who started the round three shots behind in second place and, after playing with Woods, finds himself 12 shots behind after a 2-over 74. "The difference is that Nick Faldo's not lying second for a start. And Greg Norman is not Tiger Woods. When you add it all together, he's nine shots clear. And I'm sure that will be higher tomorrow."

Considering the $60 million worth of endorsement deals he signed upon turning pro, the $486,000 first prize he will earn seems almost insignificant compared to everything else Woods will get with the victory, including a lifetime invitation to the Masters. He would also become the youngest winner of a major championship since Gene Sarazen won the 1922 PGA Championship at 20.

While others have conceded defeat, Woods is not quite ready to celebrate his victory.

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