McAllister: Don't expect this wild ride to end without more twists, turns
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Considering the strange journey we've taken just to reach this point in the 77th Masters, will anybody be surprised if Augusta National produces another crazy twists-and-turns Sunday?
Actually, the surprise would be if the final round doesn't turn into a back-nine thrill ride. After all, that's what this tournament is known for, the emotional rollercoaster that plays out amid the towering pines, blooming dogwoods and 30 variations of azaleas each second Sunday in April.
After three days of slow-play penalties, delayed penalties, a 14-year-old making history and a four-time champion making headlines, we're now at the point where drama is expected, where the serious business of crowning a winner is at hand.
Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera are your co-leaders heading into the final 18 holes, with Australians Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Jason Day filling the next three spots on the leaderboard.
Snedeker and Cabrera have the advantage, of course. They are playing in the final twosome, and as you may hear a time or two on CBS' coverage, the eventual Masters champ has come out of the final pairing 19 of the last 22 years.
On the flip side, that trend hasn't held true for the last two years, which is why Snedeker and Cabrera shouldn’t start clearing out closet space for a new wardrobe addition just yet.
For Snedeker, the reigning FedExCup champ, this is the second time in three majors he's held a lead. He was the second-round leader last year at the British Open and eventually finished tied for third.
Still looking for that breakthrough major win, the fast-talking Tennessean knows he's on the verge of taking a very important career step.
"This is what I've worked my whole life for," he said.
For Cabrera, this is familiar territory. He was the third-round co-leader here four years ago and eventually won in a playoff on the second extra hole. His only PGA TOUR win is the 2007 U.S. Open.
Evidently, all the Argentine ever does is win majors.
Unlike in 2009, he doesn't expect to be impacted by the looming intensity.
"In 2009, I was nervous, anxious," he said through his interpreter following Saturday's 3-under 69, the same score Snedeker produced. "But now I'm very comfortable.
"I know what I've got to do tomorrow."
Snedeker and Cabrera will be chased by an entire continent Sunday.
No Australian has ever won the Masters (you may have also heard that a time or two on CBS). Two years ago, they came close, Scott and Day making admirable bids before falling two shots short of Charl Schwartzel.
Scott and Day played together that Sunday, and would've been paired again had Day not bogeyed the 18th hole Saturday.
Instead, in steps another Aussie, Leishman, who is making just his eighth appearance in any major and has never finished inside the top 25.
After shooting an even-par 72 that left him tied with Day, two strokes off the lead, Leishman was planning to spend Saturday night with his American wife, Audrey, and their son Harvey, sharing a dinner of chicken crescent rolls.
"One of my favorites," he said.
No word on Scott's dinner of choice -- we'd suggest a vegemite sandwich if it wasn't such a cliche -- but he does enter Sunday as the Aussie most ready to break the drought.
After all, Scott has been knocking on the major door lately, having not only played well at the 2011 Masters but coming oh-so-close at last year's British Open. He led by four strokes with four holes to play before a disastrous four-bogey stretch to end his round and his chances.
He's learned from that experience. And now he enters just one stroke off the lead, ready to end his country's drought. And if not him, then Leishman or Day.
"Look, Aussies are a proud, sporting people and we'd love to put another notch in our belt, just like any great sporting country," Scott said. "This is one thing that one of us would like to do tomorrow, for sure."
Of course, if the co-leaders and the Aussies can't get it done, plenty of others are waiting in the wings, hoping to ride a hot putter or get tapped on the shoulder by good fortune.
Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark and Tiger Woods (Common thread: They've each won THE PLAYERS Championship) round out the top eight players.
Kuchar and Clark have never won a major. Woods has won plenty, and he's not giving up hope on No. 15, despite the much-discussed two-stroke penalty assessed prior to his round that puts him four off the lead instead of two.
"Great shot to win this championship," he said.
Woods is accustomed to being the main performer on this particular stage, but he'll enter on the wrong side of a trend.
Going back to 1991, no Masters champ has been lower than a tie for fourth entering the final round. Woods is tied for seventh. History says he'll come up short.
But crazy things have been happening all week. Why stop now?