AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He was once considered among the game's best players, an 11-time winner who validated his burgeoning stardom with a dramatic victory at the 1993 PGA Championship and a key role in the U.S. win in the Ryder Cup later that year.
But that was before cancer nearly took Paul Azinger's life. Though he ultimately regained his health, the lymphoma in his right shoulder took away his nerve and drive and almost all of his success. Since returning to the tour in 1995, Azinger has not been close to winning another major.
With a 3-under par 69 yesterday, Azinger moved to within two shots of third-round leader Fred Couples going into the final round of the 62nd Masters at Augusta National. It might be time for Azinger, now 38, to win again.
Asked what it felt like to get back into contention at a major, Azinger laughed.
"In a major?" he asked. "How about period? I couldn't get in contention in my club championship. The last time I had a legitimate chance at winning was the  PGA. I might have had an outside chance this year at Doral. I'd gotten to 8-under on the last day and the leader was at 10. I'm not positive."
Azinger has admitted that he lost his intensity after recovering from cancer. At last year's PGA Championship, Azinger said, "I used to just want to take pictures of birds. Now I want to shoot them." Yesterday he shot five birdies and two bogeys to move into the hunt.
"I was completely comfortable today with my position at all times," said Azinger, who is tied with Mark O'Meara and Phil Mickelson for second. "I don't know what tomorrow is going to feel like. It's not going to be easy for anybody. I've been there before, so we'll see.
"It [his intensity] was a problem for a while, but it hasn't been a problem lately. I've gotten past that point in my life. You know I can say that my life has returned to normal. I care about golf as much as I ever used to. But the reality is that I understand there are more important things."
Love gets break
Davis Love eagled two holes yesterday in a round of 67, including holing out from 126 yards with a sand wedge on the 400-yard 17th hole.
"I was actually thinking about holing out a shot when I walked up 14," said Love, who also eagled the par-5 second hole. "I was thinking it would be nice to birdie this hole and make a 3 at [par-5] 15 and be right back in this tournament. I unfortunately hit a bad shot at 14 and forgot about it."
Love, who would wind up with a 5-under-par 67 to get back to even par for the tournament, birdied the par-5 15th hole before his dramatic eagle at the par-4 17th.
The 4-under 68 for O'Meara was his best round at Augusta. He has not been under par for the tournament since 1992, when he shot 280 and finished tied for fourth behind -- you guessed it -- Fred Couples. The lowest scoring average on Sunday this year belongs to David Duval and Jim Furyk, who last year finished fourth in the British Open, tied for fifth in the U.S. Open and tied for sixth in the PGA.