By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Francesco Molinari led Tiger Woods by a single shot as they headed into another back-nine showdown on Sunday with the Masters title on the line.
Paired together in the final round of last year’s British Open, won by the Italian at Carnoustie, Woods will be hoping for a different outcome at Augusta National as he bids to end an 11-year major drought by claiming a fifth Green Jacket. While Woods and Molinari held the spotlight, there were other Green Jacket contenders lurking in the shadows, with twice U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and big-hitting Tony Finau just two off the pace.
Englishman Ian Poulter and unheralded American Patrick Cantlay are three shots off the lead.
All eyes were on Woods, Molinari and the weather as the race for the Green Jacket turned into a final sprint with the forecast predicting rain and thunderstorms.
In a desperate attempt to get the season’s first major across the finish line before the storm hit, officials pushed up start times and sent golfers off in threesomes from both the first and 10th tees.
Dressed in his traditional final-round red shirt, Woods collected his first birdie of the day, rolling in an eight-footer at the third, to trim Molinari’s lead to a single shot, but then gave it right back with a bogey at the par-three fourth.
The reworked fifth hole, a trouble spot for Woods all week, was once again a headache for the former world number one and he carded a bogey for the fourth straight day.
With Finau also carding a bogey and Koepka dropping a shot at the sixth, Molinari suddenly found himself alone at the top of the leaderboard with a three-shot advantage.
Things, however, can change quickly at Augusta National and they did just that at the par-four seventh.
Molinari, who had been rock steady reeling off six straight pars, paid for a wayward tee shot, picking up just his second bogey of the week and first in 50 holes.
Woods, meanwhile, shook off any lingering effects of back-to-back bogeys with a tap in birdie to slice Molinari’s advantage to a single stroke.
The ice cool Italian, however, would not be rattled, rolling in a clutch 13-footer for birdie at the eighth, with Woods also gaining a shot.
It is said the Masters does not truly begin until the back nine on Sunday and that held true as Woods and Molinari parred the ninth to head into the turn with everything to play for.
(Editing by Toby Davis)