AUGUSTA, Ga. — After two controversy-filled days at the Augusta National Golf Club, it appears there is only one way to separate the congestion that exists at the top of the leaderboard at the 77th Masters.
Assess a penalty.
Tournament officials have not been afraid to do that the last 48 hours, picking on the youngest player to appear in the Masters and the biggest star in golf for rules infractions. What’s next, a two-shot penalty on Jason Dufner for bad hair?
It has been enough to overshadow what will be a crowded race to the finish today with Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera trying to hold off three Australians — Adam Scott, Jason Day, and Marc Leishman — battling to win the first green jacket for their country.
And Snedeker, who is tied for the lead with Cabrera at 7-under 209, is ready.
“I’ve spent 32 years of my life getting ready for [today], and it’s all been a learning process, and I am completely, 100 percent sure that I’m ready to handle no matter what happens,” Snedeker said.
“I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t win, period. I’m not here to get a good finish. I’m not here to finish top five. I’m here to win, and that’s all I’m going to be focused on.”
Snedeker was the hottest player of the PGA Tour when he won the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach in February. But he missed more than a month with a rib injury sustained in that tournament and missed the cut in each of the two tournaments he played when he returned.
But Snedeker hasn’t made a bogey in his last 27 holes and looked more like he did earlier this season when he charged into a tie with Cabrera with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 15 and 16.
“I feel not quite back to the way I was,” Snedeker said. “But I feel very, very close to where I was. The confidence is coming back, everything.”
Snedeker had a chance to win the Masters in 2008 when he was in second place after 36 and 54 holes. But he shot a final-round 77 and afterward broke down in tears.
“I’m like a duck on a pond,” Snedeker said. “I might seem calm on the outside, but my heart is beating a mile a minute on the inside.”
Speaking of ducks, Cabrera might be the most under-appreciated two-time major champion among active players on the PGA Tour.
The man who is called “El Pato” — Spanish for “the duck” — won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club by holding off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. Two years later, he won a playoff with Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell to claim the 2009 Masters.
But, after slipping to No. 269 in the world rankings, here he is again, tied for the lead after a third-round 69 that included closing birdies on Nos. 16 and 18. And in pursuit of another green jacket.
“I’ve been working hard for this moment, and I can’t waste it,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “I got to go play good golf. But there’s other good players out there.”
The third round was played amid a buzz of conversation and controversy about Tiger Woods, who was assessed a two-shot penalty before his round for taking an illegal drop on the 15th hole in the second round. Some believed he would be disqualified, but because of a new rule that was instituted in 2012, Woods was not disqualified by Masters officials and was allowed to continue his quest for a fifth green jacket.
Woods took advantage of the reprieve and shot 70 to finish at 3-under 213. He is four shots from the lead, but Woods has never come from behind to win a major title.
“If it was done a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to play,” Woods said. “But the rules have changed and, under the rules of golf, I was able to play.”
Scott is trying to bounce back from his collapse in the 2012 British Open when he bogeyed the final four holes to hand the title to Ernie Els. He has made just one bogey in the last 31 holes and is alone at 6-under 210 after a third-round 69.
Scott is one of three Australians — Day and Leishman are the others — who is trying to become the first from his country to win the Masters. Day and Leishman are a shot back at 5-under 211.
“To win the Masters would be incredible, great for Australia,” Scott said. “We never looked better, odds-wise, going into a Sunday, other than that one in’96. Three of us are right there.”
Day had made 14 consecutive pars, dating to the second round, when he ended the streak with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 13th. That thrust the 25-year-old Australian, who has just one PGA Tour victory, into the lead at 7 under.
But, after going 22 holes without a bogey, Day made two at the final two holes to shoot 73 and finish tied with Leishman, the first-round co-leader who shot 72 and refuses to go away.
“I’m not disappointed,” Day said.
“Obviously, I would love to have the lead, but I’m a couple back, and now’s a good opportunity to go out there and obviously try and win my first major.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.