The Masters Chronicles XX: Day Three

        AUGUSTA, Ga. – For the first time in a long time, the Masters might play out like the days of old.
        Indeed, those roars that were generated by birdies and eagles in the past are expected to be back when veterans Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera take a two-shot lead into today’s final 18 holes at Augusta National.
        The word all week has been that officials will move up the tees and make the pins more accessible on the back nine after a barrage of criticism the past two years for turning the season’s first major championship into a grind-it-out U.S. Open.
        That doesn’t mean that the front nine won’t further its reputation as the tournament’s more difficult stretch. But by restoring the back nine’s risk-reward reputation it should make for some fireworks that will once again echo through the tall Georgia pines.
          Cabrera, who captured the 2007 U.S. Open, was solid as a rock during Saturday’s third round as he carved out his share of the top spot at 11-under-par 205 with a smooth 69. Perry, who should have won the 1996 PGA Championship but lost a playoff to Mark Brooks, looked like he might run away and hide when he got to 12-under through 10 holes but fell back slightly with a 70.
          Still, you usually can’t play defensively at Augusta National and get away with it, especially with Chad Campbell (72), Jim Furyk (68) and Steve Stricker (68) sitting at 9-, 8- and 7-under, respectively.
          Cabrera, whose game seems tailor-made for this golf course, certainly seemed like he had more left in the tank compared with Perry, who has been in the lead or near the lead for majority of the past two days.
          “I’m lucky enough to be in a very good position that I haven’t been in before, and I hope to make the most of it,’’ said the big Argentine, who has three top-10 finishes here, his best being a tie for eighth in 2006.
         Perry looked exhausted but the FBR Open champ also wants his first major championship in the worst way, primarily for his ailing father back in Kentucky. So there is lots of motivation to wake up anew.
        “I’m excited and really looking forward to tomorrow,’’ said the 48-year-old Perry, who should he win today would replace Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winner of a green jacket.
       “Today was a test for me, because I didn’t have my best stuff. But I played smart golf and kept myself in position. I’m very proud of myself, because it really felt like work today.’’
         Unfortunately, the two guys who everyone wants to see make the most noise in this annual chase through the dogwoods and azaelas, the No. 1 and 2 players in the world, are a long way down the leader board. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are hanging on at 4 -under and praying for a miracle finish.
       “Overall I just wasn’t comfortable, and then I got off to a terrible start, obviously,’’ admitted Woods, who absorbed a double-bogey 6 on the first hole and then slowly clawed his way back for a 70.
         “But man, I fought hard to get it back today. That was a hell of a fight. If (the leaders) run off and hide, I’m probably done. But if they don’t, and I have a really great  round, maybe.’’
          Woods didn’t want to comment about a tee shot he hit at the par-3 sixth hole, where his ball glanced off the pin about six inches above the cup and then spun back 50 feet to the bottom of the green. His ball mark there was just four inches from the hole, yet it turned out to be a long, two-putt par.
          “You don’t want to know my thoughts,’’ he said shaking his head.
          Mickelson, who got to 5 under twice but couldn’t hold any momentum, was in the same frame of mind.
         “I thought it could have been lower, and it needed to be lower,’’ said Mickelson of his 71. “But if you play well on Sunday, there’s always a chance around here.
          “I’m going to need a 64 or a 65, but I think it’s out there.’’
          Tiger and Lefty have certainly done it before. And they’ll have the extra motivation of being paired together. It’s no secret they’re not particularly fond of each other, and the ugly incident invovling Woods’ caddie Stevie Williams ripping Mickelson still looms in the background.
         Woods just recently came from five strokes back to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and once came from seven back with seven holes to play to win the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach.
        Mickelson has rallied from even further back, once coming from eight shots off the pace in the final round to win the 2000 Colonial Invitational.
        Of course, this isn’t the AT&T or the Colonial, but Mickelson gave an indication that he expects the opportunity to go low to still be there today.
         “It’s nice to see the golf course give you opportunities to attack pins rather than just at the par-5s,’’ he said. “I think it’s been a fun Masters so far this year.’’
        And the fun is just beginning.
         It’s all but over for Padraig Harrington and his bid to win a third consecutive major and join Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan in the record book.
        “The Paddy Slam’’ died behind a 73 that the Irishman put up in Round 3 pushed him to 1-under and all but out of it considering he is 10 strokes back. It’s too bad, really, because there is not a nicer guy in golf.
         “Well, obviously, my chances died at the second hole,’’ said Harrington, who made a quadruple-bogey 9 there when he pulled his drive into the woods and needed four strokes to get clear of the pines and back in the fairway.
          “It was reasonably easy after that. Yeah, not too much stress after that.’’
          Harrington said the Paddy Slam was more about the media than it was about him.
           “I don’t (think about it),’’ he said. “That’s all your story. I just have to go out there and play golf. It’s never even crossed my mind that I’m out there to win three majors in a row when I’m on the golf course.’’
          Harrington admitted he was deflated after the 9, but “seriously’’ it had nothing to do with three in a row.
         “Not really any disappointment,’’ he said of ending. “Just a ‘so be it’ sort of thing. I would never in any way suggest that I have got full control over my destiny, let’s say in terms of winning the tournament. So I understand that things have to happen during the week and it wasn’t to be.’’
       Rory McIlroy, the 19-year-old from Northern Ireland who came into the Masters riding some rave reviews, barely survived the cut (1 over) and a disqualification ruling that he had tested the sand in a bunker at No. 18 during the second round.
       McIlroy failed to get out of the bunker on his first shot, and appeared to kick at the sand in frustration. Since the ball was still in the bunker, he could have been DQed for testing the sand.
       Officials called McIlroy back to the club Friday night at 8;40 p.m. after they had reviewed film. After huddling with McIlroy, the club released this statement: “Based on the tape and Mr. McIlroy’s statement of what had taken place after he played the shot, it was determined that no violation of the rules had occurred.’’
        McIlroy said he didn’t kick the sand in frustration but rather to fill in the hole created by his footprints.
        “I didn’t even think about what I did until (rules official) Fred Ridley called me about 6:30,’’ McIlroy said Saturday. “They called me and said, ‘Do you want to have a look at the tape before we make a decision?’
          “I said no, because I’m confident that I haven’t done anything wrong. They called me back a half hour later and said, ‘It would be in your best interests to come up and see the tape.’ We reviewed the tape for about five or ten minutes and I said to them, ‘Look, I hit my shot and it’s a natural instinct for me to smooth out my footprints, if you look at any bunker shot I play I do that.’ ’’
       Apparently the committee agreed.
     All five amateurs invited to the Masters were gone after 36 holes, meaning there won’t be a low amateur this year when the closing ceremony takes place today. Of the five, Reinier Saxton had the best aggregate (3 over) but you have to make the cut to get the prize.
       Scottsdale’s Drew Kittleson, the U.S. Amateur runner-up and a sophomore at Florida State, shot 72 in the second round, which tied for low round by an amateur with Jack Newman, the U.S. Amateur Public Links champion.
       Kittleson, who got two pieces of Masters crystal for his two eagles in Round 2, including an incredible 2 at the 505-yard, par-4 11th hole, stuck around for the weekend despite losing his playing privileges.
      “I’ll just hang out with my friends (from Scottsdale),’’ he said. “Normally I’d watch (the last two rounds) on TV, but it might be too demoralizing to know I can’t play.’’
       Unlike other tournaments in professional golf, the Masters always waits until the night before the final round to announce its purse.
        For the second straight year its $7.5 million with $1.35 million going to the winner and $810,000 for second place. But unlike other tournaments, the Masters also pays those who miss the cut starting at $24,75- and ranging downward depending on score.
       Normally when players miss the cut at a tournament they don’t stick around. But there was Fred Couples and Danny Lee following Tiger Woods during Saturday’s third round.
       Perhaps they were trying to pick up some tips. Or maybe it was just the ultimate act of respect. . . .
       Andrew Magee of Scottsdale, the former PGA Tour player who recently came out of retirement briefly and missed the cut by a stroke at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was in the tower behind the 16th green working for the British Broadcasting Company.
       “The Brits love me. They love my voice,’’ Magee deadpanned. “But they are loose and it’s so much fun working with their broadcast team.’’ . . .      
       The Fu Manchu is white now, but that’s still Julius Erving — a.k.a., “Dr J.’’ – with his Masters hat on. The legendary NBA player is a huge fan of golf, and he was seen among Tiger’s gallery.
      Asked what his favorite part of the Masters is, besides following another legend, the good Doctor said: “I love to go to the driving range and sit in the stands and watch the players warm up. Then my next (favorite thing) is walking the course, especially over at the 15th and 16th (holes), where they have to hit over water.’’ . . .
     He never quite made it through the gates, but a suspended/slimmed down bad John Daly has spent the week just across the street from Augusta National hawking souvenirs and signing autographs with his new girlfriend, Anna Cladakis.
     Golf’s bad boy, who got a six-month sentence from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem for several incidents related to alcohol, has lost at least 50 pounds, and actually looked like a new man. He reportedly has been undergoing rehabilitation.
    Pointing to course, Cladakis told the Augusta Chronicle, “Next year we’ll be in there.’’ If that’s true, it would be a hell of a comeback.