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.”
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.
Calgary’s Stephen Ames shot a 1-under-par 71 and is tied for tenth at 4 under for the tournament.
Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., shot 7 over par on the day and sits tied for 49th at 6 over.
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.
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.