Kenny Perry has never finished in the top 10 at the Masters.
John Biever/SI
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. - The Shark swam back to Florida on Friday, all hope for a Paddy Slam ended Saturday, and Tiger Woods is putting so badly going into Sunday's final round that he's most likely feeling nostalgic about the days when he used to bend down to read greens on a broken leg.

We saw the sneak previews for the 2009 Masters, which was supposed to be about Greg Norman conquering his demons; or Harrington seizing his third straight major; or the world's No. 1 player growing his legend. This is not that movie.

Start with Saturday, or "Moving Day" as it is known in the trade. No one moved at Augusta National, not even on a course made soaking wet by an overnight thunderstorm.

Your co-leaders are not Tiger and Phil, as many had hoped and predicted, but 48-year-old Kenny Perry, who shot 70 Saturday, and Angel Cabrera, who fired a 69. They are at 11 under par.

Woods (70) and Mickelson (71) are four under par, begging the question: How far back is too far back?

Chad Campbell, who came into this week with exactly one top-20 finish on the season (T9 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic), is two shots back at nine under after a third-round 72. Jim Furyk, who is coming off only his third winless season in 14 years on Tour, is another shot behind at eight under. Then comes Steve Stricker (68, seven under), followed closely by Todd Hamilton (72), Shingo Katayama (70) and Rory Sabbatini (70) — all at six under.

What, you didn't have Katayama in your Masters pool? Welcome to the 2009 Masters, where you can pretty much blow up everything you thought you knew.

Cabrera had disappeared since he won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. It was there that he'd quipped that while some players have sports psychologists, he smoked to ease the tension. Then he quit smoking, and notched only one top-10 finish in 17 PGA Tour starts in 2008, and missed the cut in three of six starts in 2009.

Clearly his career had gone up in smoke. Or not. Where Cabrera should be a twitching mess, on the greens, he has been steady, taking fewer than 30 putts every day and totaling 84.

Tiger's three-day putting total: 92.

"Now I don't have a sports psychologist and I don't smoke," Cabrera said through a translator, getting a laugh.

Perry, 48, is just as unlikely a presence atop the board. He's supposed to be at that awkward age when a man obsesses over his cholesterol and the Champions Tour, and not only has he not won a major, he's had an attendance problem.

He couldn't be bothered to try to qualify for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last summer, and instead of traveling overseas to play in the British, Perry teed it up in Milwaukee. His lone stab at a major title in 2008, at the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, ended after 18 holes when he WD'd with a scratched cornea.

And yet Perry is threatening to atone for the 1996 PGA at Valhalla, where Mark Brooks beat him in a playoff — a result that still pains him to this day. Perry made four birdies and two bogeys at Augusta on Saturday, holding steady even while his playing partner, Campbell, stumbled with a back-nine 38.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," Perry said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what I got."

The wind changed for Saturday's third round, blowing into the players' faces on the already difficult 445-yard first hole. It seemed to catch Woods by surprise; he hooked his drive — not his usual miss — and double-bogeyed the hole. It was a near-fatal blow, it seemed, not only for Woods but also for the "experts" who said he was a lock to prevail this week.

Padraig Harrington struggled as well. The man who seemed to have figured out the majors, having won the final two on last year's docket, made a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 second hole.

"It was reasonably easy after that," said Harrington, who recovered to shoot 73 and was at one under for the tournament. "There was not too much stress after that, let's say."

The Harrington implosion torpedoed the last of the three big storylines entering the week, which also included the return of Woods to the majors after his eight-month rehabilitation after knee surgery, and the return of Norman to Augusta for the first time since 2002. (Norman missed the cut.)

It figured, in a way, because everything about this Masters has been as wrong as the second-round forecast. Rain-softened Augusta National yielded a low of only 68 Saturday, shot by five players, which came as something of a shocker after Campbell's 65 on Thursday and Kim's 65 (and 11 birdies) on Friday.

Perry, too, continues to surprise. It was at the Mercedes Championship in January that he predicted a big 2009 and a career victory total that most everyone else thought was impossible. "You know what, y'all may think I'm crazy," he said, "but I want to get 20 wins. I've got 12."

The room was silent, and in retrospect it's a good thing. At the FBR Open in Phoenix, Perry picked up number 13, and he's been so steady at Augusta this week that he's brought to mind something else he said that day in Maui: "If I catch fire ... look out. I could put two or three more [victories] on the board."

He credits his newfound dedication to the game to the fact that his three kids have moved out of the house. Making the Ryder Cup team and leading the U.S. to victory in his home state didn't hurt, either.

"So now I'm more of a goal-setter," he said Saturday. "Then I throw out that number 20, it's an unrealistic goal, but yet it could become realistic. It could be obtainable."

Could be. We've been wrong before. On Saturday, Cabrera didn't look like the one-shot wonder we took him for. He's always loved it here. In just his second start, in 2001, he finished T10, then went T9 and T15 the next two years, respectively. Maybe a Masters title is a natural encore to his U.S. Open breakthrough at Oakmont.

Here is what we know: Cabrera and Perry will tee off at 2:35 p.m. Sunday. The Masters champion has come from the final pairing in 17 of the last 18 years. Jackie Burke authored the biggest final-round comeback, coming from eight behind to win in 1956.

Does that help? Not if the 2009 Masters finishes the way it's played out so far, all helter-skelter and with parts flying off. Better to assume a more universal truth that the Golf Gods seem to have been stressing all week: We know nothing. Amen to that.

 

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