AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The ghosts of Augusta National are hiding out among the azaleas and pines, ready to pounce at a moment's notice in the 1995 Masters. They are here, stirring memories, both good and bad, not to mention the emotional juices of those involved.
They are here for Ben Crenshaw, bringing back his 60-foot birdie putt and his heartwarming victory in 1984. They are here for Fred Couples, still trying to figure out how his ball ever stayed up at the 12th hole when he won three years ago.
They are here for Curtis Strange, recalling his disappointing double-dip-in-the-water defeat a decade ago. They are here for Scott Hoch and Greg Norman, teasing them about blowing another chance at a green jacket. And they are here for others in contention for the first time, whispering about how few have survived this type of pressure.
And today they will be back.
They will be back for Crenshaw, who shot a 3-under-par 69 yesterday to move to 10-under 206 and tie for the lead with former Nike Tour player Brian Henninger. They will be back for Couples, who is tied with Hoch, veteran Jay Haas, left-handed phenom Phil Mickelson and Australia's Steve Elkington at 9-under going into the final round.
They will be back for Strange, whose 7-under-par 65 put him in the hunt at 8-under, tied with South African David Frost and John Huston, who after starting with a triple-bogey and bogey en route to a 40 on the front, played the last 12 holes in 7-under par. They will be back as always for Norman, perhaps the most star-crossed player in Masters history, who is lurking at 7-under after a 68 yesterday, tied with Davis Love III.
They will be back for players like Henninger, a late bloomer trying to become the first Masters rookie since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win. They will be back for Elkington, a once-rising star whose allergy to grass stunted his career. And they will be back for Haas, the second-round leader who started at 9-under before free-falling to 5-under through six holes yesterday and then climbing back into contention.
"That board is stacked, and it's going to be some tournament tomorrow," Crenshaw said of a leader board that has 21 players within six shots of the lead. "I think it is going to be very close. We all want to give ourselves a chance on the back nine tomorrow. We haven't had this crowding here in a long time. With all of those people right there, you can imagine what kind of free-for-all it's going to be."
The second tier of the leader board is a virtual Who's Who of Golf: Corey Pavin, the best player never to have won a major, tied with Duffy Waldorf at 6-under 210; two-time champions Ray Floyd and Nick Faldo in a group of four at 5-under 211; defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, two-time champion Tom Watson, former champion Ian Woosnam of Wales, as well as former U.S. Open champions Hale Irwin and Lee Janzen at 4-under 212.
"Who plays the best, who gets the breaks, those are the things you need to have to happen," said Norman, in serious contention here for the first time since 1987, the year he lost in sudden-death on a miracle pitch by Larry Mize. "You have to play good, too. As I've said before, you are not going to hit every shot absolutely perfect. You are going to make a mistake and it is how that mistake ends up for you is what is really the crux of the tournament."
The biggest mistake Crenshaw made in yesterday's third round -- another round played in spectacular conditions for scoring -- came when he sailed his tee shot at the par-5 15th hole into the gallery. But that's as far as Crenshaw strayed, and he wound up parring that hole. He had a chance to take sole possession of the lead, but missed a 15-footer for birdie at 18.
"I'm really trying to play it one shot at a time," said Crenshaw, who has a number of other top-five finishes here, including a tie for third in 1989, the last time he started as a final-round leader. "I'm trying not to get ahead of myself."
Said Henninger, 31, who qualified for the Masters by winning the Deposit Guaranty at this time last year: "Hopefully, it won't make you nervous. Maybe the golfing gods of Augusta will help me tomorrow."
The gods have not been kind to some of those in contention. Aside from the chip by Mize to beat him eight years ago, there was Norman's own errant 4-iron on the 72nd hole the year before, preventing a sudden-death playoff with Jack Nicklaus. There was Hoch blowing the 2 1/2 -footer and losing in sudden death to Faldo in 1989. And there was Strange, whose decisions to go for the greens at 13 and 15 cost him bogeys and allowed Bernhard Langer to beat him.
"I can't remember much about 10 years ago other than I was playing very well," said Strange, still looking for his first tour victory since win ning the second of two straight Opens in 1989. "You know, I played good. I mean, I lost the golf tournament. I finished second. Does it help or hurt tomorrow on the back nine if I'm still in contention? Who knows?"
Asked if the thinks about 1985 often, Strange said: "I don't think about it, but I've won and lost some golf tournaments since then. You know, the Open was certainly bigger than some member-guests. To me, the back side tomorrow is very exciting, holes where you can make a lot of birdies and a lot of bogeys. I like watching it, much less playing it."
He certainly won't be alone.
But don't just look at the leader board. Look behind the azaleas, and in the pines. The ghosts of Augusta National are everywhere, ready to pounce at a moment's notice.
The leaders . . .
B. Henninger .. .. ..70-68-68-206
B. Crenshaw .. .. ...70-67-69-206
. . . and followers
F. Couples .. .. .. .71-69-67-207
S. Elkington .. .. ..73-67-67-207
P. Mickelson .. .. ..66-71-70-207
S. Hoch .. .. .. .. .69-67-71-207
J. Haas .. .. .. .. .71-64-72-207
$ Complete scores: 15C
Par out ... ... ... 454 ... 343 ... ... 454-36
Henninger .. .. ... 454 ... 242 ... ... 544-34
Crenshaw ... .. ... 454 ... 243 ... ... 454-35
Couples ... ... ... 453 ... 244 ... ... 353-33
Elkington .. .. ... 444 ... 342 ... ... 454-34
Haas .. .. .. .. .. 456 ... 444 ... ... 444-39
Mickelson .. .. ... 564 ... 344 ... ... 434-37
Hoch .. .. .. .. .. 453 ... 534 ... ... 544-37
Par in .. .. .. ... 443 ... 545 ... ... 344-36
Henninger .. .. ... 444 ... 444 ... ... 244-34
Crenshaw ... .. ... 433 ... 445 ... ... 344-34
Couples .. .. .. .. 442 ... 654 ... ... 234-34
Elkington .. .. ... 343 ... 534 ... ... 344-33
Haas .. .. .. .. .. 342 ... 454 ... ... 344-33
Mickelson .. .. ... 443 ... 434 ... ... 344-33
Hoch .. .. .. .. .. 435 ... 444 ... ... 434-34