AUGUSTA, Ga., April 7 — The last red number at Augusta National died quickly in the third round of the 2007 Masters. Stuart Appleby performed last rites with a pull-hooked drive into the trees on the 17th hole and six more awful strikes through forest and sand.
The time was 6:30 p.m., and the temperature with wind chill was just above 40 degrees.
Appleby's triple-bogey 7 pushed his score from one under par to two over, which was where he finished the day. Vaughn Taylor, playing four groups behind him, offered some hope when he birdied the par-5 15th hole to get to one over par, but he bogeyed the last three holes and finished the day at four over. And that was that; red was dead.
"This is the worst I've ever seen it here," said a gallery guard on the 15th hole, shortly after Vijay Singh walked by holding an umbrella against the bitter wind. "You know it's miserable when you don't even have fans out here watching the Masters."
Those fans that stayed wore parkas, mittens and earmuffs, and clutched cups of coffee with both hands. Some, like Sweden's Henrik Stenson, wore a ski hat. Club officials brought down the umbrellas on the lawn outside the clubhouse, lest they take flight and violate the National's no-flying-umbrellas rule. All that was missing at frigid, hilly Augusta was a chairlift.
How bad was it? Second-round co-leader Tim Clark shot 80 and was still on the first page of the leaderboard. Until Appleby's 218 Saturday, the highest score by a third-round Masters leader was 216, even par, by Tommy Jacobs and Jack Nicklaus in 1966. The field averaged 77.35 strokes. A dozen players shot in the 80s, most notably fast-falling 36-hole co-leader Brett Wetterich (83).
And yet at the end of the day there was at least one predictable element amid the swirling insanity: Tiger Woods. He is only a shot back and will play in the final group at 2:15 p.m. Sunday with Appleby, as unlikely as that seemed when Woods finished. He bogeyed his final two holes to shoot 72 and finish at three-over for the tournament, just where he started the day. He was five off the lead and furious, storming to the driving range, where he refused to talk even to his caddie, Steve Williams, or his coach, Hank Haney, for several minutes.
"It was a tough day with the wind gusts," Woods said after he had composed himself. By then the leaders were coming back to him and he was only four strokes back. "You hit quality shots and you just get absolutely hosed," he continued. "That's the way it is here."
In fact Woods gained more ground after his round than he did on the course, ending up tied with Justin Rose, who bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 75. Zach Johnson (76) and Padraig Harrington (75) joined Taylor at four over par, two strokes back.
Like Woods, Phil Mickelson gained ground by standing still, shooting a one-over-par 73 to come in at six-over par. After trailing the leaders by seven strokes through 36 holes, the defending champion will go into Sunday only four back.
"I don't feel it's unrealistic," Mickelson said after finally taming the front nine in 36 but losing a shot with two bogeys and just one birdie on the back. "I've seen people come from seven shots back. It was a very good round for me."
Retief Goosen, who made the cut on the number at eight-over-par, shot the low round of the day, a two-under 70, to move into a tie for eighth place with seven other players at six over par. That group included Mickelson, Rory Sabbatini (73), Clark (80), Jerry Kelly (78, playing in shirtsleeves), Jim Furyk (76), Luke Donald (75) and David Toms (74).
"It got to the point where you didn't worry about the ball moving on the greens," Toms said. "When it plays like this, the ones who hit fairways have the advantage. These conditions put a premium on driving the ball straight more than ever."
It was the kind of day when even playing it safe led to terrible wrecks. Geoff Ogilvy was at three-over-par when he hit his lay-up shot on the par-5 15th hole just a little too far. Faced with a delicate pitch, Ogilvy mis-hit his ball and watched it barely clear the water, bounce back off the bank and disappear into the drink. He took a drop and, hitting five, spun it off the green back into the hazard. A few steps closer to the hole he dropped again, hit his seventh shot onto the green, behind the pin, and two-putted for a quadruple-bogey 9. He bogeyed in for an 81 and was at 10-over, out of patience and out of contention.
Padraig Harrington and Lucas Glover, playing two groups behind Ogilvy, suffered their own misfortune on 15, each laying up and each spinning his third shot off the green and into the water. Both players made double-bogey, but only Harrington recovered. Glover made two more bogeys coming in and was at eight-over, almost certainly too far back.
"You had to stay patient, you had to hit quality shots, and get very lucky at the same time," Woods said, citing the 10th hole, where playing partner Paul Casey's shot rode the wind and got to the green and Woods's hit a headwind and came up way short. But wind is often a factor on such shots; what was unusual, Woods said, was that players had to anticipate its effects even on putts of two to three feet.
"That's trouble out here," he said.
With the wildly fluctuating gusts leading to such rampant backpedaling, Mickelson hoped this would be the first year since Nick Faldo won the green jacket in 1990 that the winner doesn't come from the final group.
"There's a good chance," he said, "that somebody that goes off early and posts a good number can possibly take the title this year."