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Saturday, April 11, 2009
Perry, Cabrera in final group

Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Kenny Perry took one last look at the leaderboard behind the 18th green at Augusta National. This was no time to relish his position at the top with Angel Cabrera, rather to consider what lies ahead.

"You will definitely see something on the back nine," Perry said Saturday. "That's where it's all going to happen."

Kenny Perry
Kenny Perry, 48, is hoping to become the oldest player to win the Masters.

Now this is the Masters everyone wanted to see.

Perry and Cabrera were tied at 11-under 205, the lowest 54-hole score at Augusta in seven years. Even the 16 players within seven shots of the lead still feel like they're in the game because of those familiar back-nine fireworks in the forecast.

And best of all, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will go head-to-head in the final round. Even though seven players and seven shots separated them from the leaders, both know to expect anything.

"A lot of things happen on Sunday at Augusta," Mickelson said. "And I would never put it past happening again."

Cabrera and Perry are no strangers to pressure on a big stage, but this is different.

Sunday at Augusta National is a test unlike any other they have faced.

Cabrera, who won the U.S. Open two years ago at Oakmont, made three birdies on the back nine and scratched out an important par on the final hole for a 3-under 69.

Perry, who thrived under the spotlight of a Ryder Cup in his native Kentucky last September, overcame two mistakes with his putter around Amen Corner and finished with five straight pars for a 70 to join the Argentine in the lead.

It will be the first time they've played in the final group at a major.

"I'm lucky enough to be in a very good position," Cabrera said. "I haven't been in this position before so I'll try to make the most of it."

Perry is still stung by his playoff loss at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in 1996, when he was criticized for being in the broadcast booth instead of keeping loose on the practice range. He never would have imagined that all these years later, he would have a chance to become golf's oldest major champion at 48.

"The first two days felt like I was on vacation," Perry said. "Today felt like a job."

They had a two-shot lead over Chad Campbell, who led briefly on the back nine until a blunder on the 16th hole when he took two shots to get out of the bunker, made double bogey and wound up with a 72.

Jim Furyk, another former U.S. Open champion, shot 68 and was three shots behind at 8-under 208.

"If I woke up tomorrow and I wasn't anxious, and I wasn't nervous, and I wasn't excited, I would be one beat away from dead," Furyk said.

Woods began his Saturday charge by hooking his tee shot into the trees and making double bogey. His tee shot on the par-3 sixth hit the base of the pin and tumbled off the green. He rallied with three birdies over the last six holes for a 70.

Mickelson's rally was slowed by three poor chips, and he escaped with a 71 only after hitting a big slice from the trees on the 18th hole that started down the 10th fairway and wound up on the green.

Tiger Woods
Frustration was the theme of the day for Tiger Woods, who opened with a double bogey.

They were at 4-under 212 in a tie for 10th.

Was that too far back?

Mickelson recalled Jack Nicklaus being in a tie for ninth in 1986 when he shot 30 on the back nine and won without a playoff, getting help from inexperienced players who couldn't cope with the roars and the nerves.

"I think that at this golf course, funny things can happen, and if you get momentum on your side and you're making some birdies, you can make a lot of them."

And then he offered another scenario that he and Woods desperately need.

"When it starts coming apart, it's hard to get it back," Mickelson said. "And it's easy to tumble."

There was little sign of that happening with Perry and Cabrera on a breezy afternoon, on a course where the greens remained relatively soft from an overnight downpour.

Perry became the first player to reach 12-under par at any point in the tournament since 2002 when he rolled in an 8-foot birdie on the 10th hole, and it allowed him to wonder if this might really be his week.

But he three-putted from just off the front of the 11th green of his first bogey, then fell out of the lead on the par-3 12th. After hitting over the green, Perry tried putting up the slope and hit it too hard, the ball bouncing over the cup 15 feet away for another bogey.

He recovered with a 4-iron to about 25 feet for a two-putt birdie on the 13th.

Cabrera escaped with par from a tough spot in the bunker on the ninth hole, birdied the next hole to get into contention, then used his power to make birdies on the 15th and 17th holes.

Campbell made seven straight pars down the stretch until a wild finish -- the double bogey on the 16th hole with a 7-iron into the back bunker, a 12-foot birdie on the 17th, then a wild drive into the trees on the 18th that led to bogey.

The Masters

T-1. Cabrera (-11)
T-1. Perry (-11)
3. Campbell (-9)
4. Furyk (-8)
5. Stricker (-7)
• Complete scores

"I've still got a good opportunity to win this golf tournament," he said.

Woods left the course knowing that even having a remote chance would depend on how the leaders played the back nine. They helped slightly but not running away, with Campbell shooting a 38 on the back and Perry getting around in 36.

The world's No. 1 player has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes, and only once has he won when trailing by more than seven shots going into the final round of any tournament.

"That was a hell of a fight," Woods said. "I'm pretty proud of the fact I got myself back in the tournament, considering that I didn't hit it as well as I wanted to and had two three-putts."

The forecast was for sunshine and theatrics, perhaps a back-nine charge not seen this decade at Augusta National.

Steve Stricker played bogey-free for a 68 that put him four shots behind at 7-under 209, with former British Open champion Todd Hamilton (72), Shingo Katayama (70) and Rory Sabbatini (70) another shot behind.

One player too far out of contention is Padraig Harrington, who saw his hopes of a third straight major end on the second hole when he twice hit a tree and took a quadruple-bogey 9. He shot a 73 and was 10 shots back.

Only once in the last 18 years at the Masters has the winner not come out of the final group, which bodes well for Perry and Cabrera.

Even so, Perry knows that Sunday will be the toughest day of all -- even if the course is set up for birdies and eagles.

"This might be the last time I have this kind of opportunity," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."