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Saturday, April 11, 2009
Updated: April 12, 10:11 PM ET
At Augusta, it's an age-old question

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The talented youth that dot golf's landscape give the game a healthy future. But that is not who is getting it done here at Augusta National.

At a place where experience has almost always been as prevalent as the smell of pine, the final round of the 73rd Masters is setting up as one among those who have been here before.

Jim Furyk
Of the top nine players on the leaderboard after 54 holes, Jim Furyk has the most experience having played in 13 Masters.

Not to the Butler Cabin for the green jacket category as none of the top nine players on the leaderboard has won the Masters. But at least these frontrunners have been around these parts a few times, dealt with the swirling winds at Amen Corner, shook over putts on slick greens.

Of those nine players, none have competed in this tournament less than five times prior to this year. And all are at least 33 years old.

"I think experience has always played a huge part in this golf tournament," said Jim Furyk, 38, the winner of the 2003 U.S. Open who is playing in his 13th Masters. "Usually it takes a while to figure out how to get around this golf course.

"I understand how a young guy like Anthony [Kim] comes out and makes 11 birdies [Friday]. And I'm not saying that it can't be done or a first-timer can't win, but definitely the first or second time you walk away from this golf tournament, a lot of times, the light bulb goes on and you say, 'Wow, I could have played so much better.' "

Furyk tied for the day's best round, a 4-under-par 68 that matched Steve Stricker. Both players are within striking distance of the lead held by 2007 U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry, who at age 48 is bidding to become the oldest major champion.

They are tied at 11-under-par 205 with Chad Campbell -- playing in his sixth Masters -- two strokes behind. Furyk is three back, with Stricker another stroke behind.

There is a three-way tie for sixth among Todd Hamilton, Shingo Katayama and Rory Sabbatini. American golf fans might not know much about Katayama, a 26-time winner on the Japan Tour, but this is his eighth appearance at Augusta National.

"I think that more than the swing itself, experience counts a lot," said Katayama, whose best Masters finish is a tie for 26th in 2007.

Perry is defying the odds on several fronts. At 48, he would be just under four months older than Julius Boros was in 1968 at the PGA Championship, where he became the oldest major champion. The oldest Masters winner is Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 when he won his sixth green jacket in 1986.

And then there is Perry's history here. It's not all that great. Perry last played the Masters in 2005 and his best finish was a tie for 12th in 2005. In eight previous appearances, he had missed five cuts.

"Well, I think [experience] matters a lot," Perry said. "This is only my ninth, so I've got some rounds here. But I was never there mentally. I never had the short game to compete here.

"You've got to really pay attention out there. A hole like [No.] 16 today was a perfect example. It was 174 [yards] into the wind. You could try to hit a 6-iron back there and try to go and hit it close, but I chose to hit the 7-iron into the hill, kill it and have the 40-footer up the hump there. I think if you get too aggressive here, it will kill you.

"You have to somehow find the happy medium. You have to know when to be patient, when to play away from the tough pins, and then go get the pins you think you can make birdies on the par-5s and stuff."

Then there is this bit of Masters history: only once in the past 20 years has the winner not played in the final twosome. Zach Johnson came from outside the final pairing to win the 2007 Masters. You have to go all the way back to Nick Faldo in 1989 to find the last one before Johnson.

That would seem to bode well for either Perry or Cabrera, who have a 2-shot advantage over the rest of the field.

But then there is a guy lurking who might have the best opportunity of all. Furyk is probably the most accomplished player of the bunch, a 13-time PGA Tour winner who also has played more Masters than any of the others in the top nine.

And yet Furyk has a few demons to fight as well. He's coming off a poor stretch in which he opened the Transitions Championship with a 65, then nearly missed the cut the next day with a 78 and went on to tie for 52nd. He then missed the cut at Bay Hill.

Furyk also has not won since 2007 and his last forays into contention at major championships have not gone so well.

His last best chance to win a major at the 2007 U.S. Open also involved Cabrera, who went on to win the tournament at Oakmont. Tied for the lead with the Argentine on the 71st hole, Furyk's attempt to drive the short par-4 hole backfired, leading to a bogey that cost him the tournament.

He finished second by a shot, tied with Tiger Woods at one stroke behind Cabrera.

A year earlier at Winged Foot, Furyk is often forgotten in the mess made of the 72nd hole by Phil Mickelson. Furyk finished tied for second with Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie when he missed a 5-foot par putt on the last hole that, it turns out, would have put him in a playoff with Geoff Ogilvy.

"I'm anxious, but I'll be more comfortable in this position because of those tournaments," Furyk said. "I've been in this position before. You're always anxious. I'm sure Tiger's anxious, as many tournaments as he's won.

"If I woke up [Sunday] and wasn't nervous and wasn't excited, I would be one beat away from dead.

"So I look forward to that. We work hard to wake up on Sunday morning and have a chance to win the Masters, so I'll be excited to do it."

And Furyk knows his way around this place, just like those he'll be competing against.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.