Old, wet story for Augusta


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If major golf championships are typically marathons, the Masters has again become an Ironman. For the second straight year, the final day of the season's first major will be decided over more than 18 holes.

In most cases, a lot more.

Thunderstorms postponed play yesterday at Augusta National in the third round of the 70th Masters by more than four hours, and several players, including second-round leader Chad Campbell, barely got onto the soggy course.

When play was suspended by darkness at 7:40 p.m., the 31-year-old Texan had played just four holes, starting out with two birdies before staggering with two straight bogeys to see a three-stroke lead going into the day all but erased.

At 6-under-par through 40 holes, Campbell leads Tim Clark of South Africa and journeyman Rocco Mediate by one stroke. Defending champion Tiger Woods, 2004 champion Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington of Ireland are three behind.

Five other players - two-time U.S. Open champions and South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, as well as former Masters and two-time PGA champion Vijay Singh, Canada's Stephen Ames, who recently won The Players Championship, and Fred Couples, another former TPC winner, are four back.

That means the top five players in the world are all within four strokes of Campbell, who is ranked 20th.

"It's going to be tough, but I don't think winning any major is easy," said Campbell, who went down to the final hole of the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill before losing by two strokes to Shaun Micheel. "It's going to be a bit tougher walking this course."

The resumption of the third round at 8 a.m. today means that most in contention will have at least 27 holes remaining and several will have to play more. Woods finished his front nine, as did Ames and Goosen. Campbell, Mediate and Singh have 32 holes left, Mickelson and Els 31 and Harrington 30.

A year ago, Woods came into Sunday having played the same number of holes - 45 - and trailing Chris DiMarco, who had also played 45, by four strokes. By the time they teed off for the final round later in the day, Woods led by three after finishing a binge of birdies that at one point reached seven straight.

After stumbling slightly at the end of the final round, Woods would go on to beat DiMarco in a sudden-death playoff.

"Last year, we went 54 holes on the weekend, but last year was last year," said Woods. "I've got to take it one shot at a time. I wish I was more under par. You know with this golf course, with no wind, guys are going to be making birdies. You know you're going to make birdies out there with the greens so soft."

Mickelson started out with three straight birdies, but like Campbell, bogeyed his last two holes. Clark made up the most ground, picking up three strokes in the five holes he played. Mediate made two birdies, as did Woods and Ames. Els made a birdie and a bogey, and Singh closed with a bogey after three straight pars.

Campbell doesn't seem intimidated by the names and reputations of those in close pursuit. The top five players in the world have combined to win six Masters and 20 majors, including four Masters and 10 majors by the 30-year-old Woods.

"Obviously, those guys do have a lot more major experience, with the wins," said Campbell, who has won three times, most recently at this year's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. "But you know, I'd like to start somewhere."

Mediate, who has won five times in a 21-year career, knows that the back problems that have plagued him since 1994 could present some difficulty today, given how many holes he has left to play.

"I'll crawl around here if I have to," said Mediate, 43. "I'm not going to stop unless you pull me out of here. It's going to be a long day. It's going to be a tough day. I'm looking forward to it."

Admittedly, Mediate and others not named Woods, Singh, Mickelson, Els or Goosen will have to play the round - or more - of their careers.

"I have to do something real special the next 33 holes to win this golf tournament, whereas some of the bigger guns have to pretty much play a nice solid round of golf," said Mediate, who hasn't won since 2002.

"Phil is right there. He's close. Tiger is always close. As long as he's upright, he's close. So if those guys go out and play a good round, it's going to be tough to beat them, even though I'm a few ahead of them."

Mediate, who is paired with Campbell for the third round, doesn't think his playing partner will implode.

"He's very, very calm," said Mediate. "He hit a couple of shots that were slightly off and got killed for them. But he's going to be around. He's not going anywhere, that guy. He's really, really, really good."

Campbell doesn't think the long day will favor such players as Woods, Singh and Goosen, who are in better physical shape than Campbell, Mickelson, Els (coming back from knee surgery last year) and Mediate.

"I would say it's more mental than physical, actually," said Campbell, who is listed conservatively at 210 pounds. "It's going to be tough walking around many times, but when you're in contention, you really don't think about that. It's not like we have to run. That might be a different story."


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