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‘It’s going to be a battle’: Masters leader Molinari wary of final round challengers

April 15, 2019

AUGUSTA — There’s only two things that can keep Francesco Molinari from winning the Masters on Sunday.

One is that he drops shots and comes back to the field. The other is that someone else makes a charge to overtake him.

Given how he’s played all week, the former seems unlikely. Molinari has made only one bogey, on the 11th on Thursday, in 54 holes. His Saturday 66 gave him sole possession of the lead after starting the day in a five-way tie.

Given how much of the field played Saturday, the latter is definitely possible – and Molinari is more than aware. He plays in the final group Sunday with the two players two shots behind him – a hard-charging Tony Finau and four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods.

″(Woods) obviously loves this place, and he’s playing great golf. So I’m aware that it’s not going to be easy tomorrow, and you know, like I said, I can just do my best,” Molinari said. “But it’s not like I can only worry about him. There’s a lot of guys I think with a chance. We’ve seen in the past years that a few shots’ lead really don’t mean too much, and we’ve seen today that you can shoot 7, 8 under the way the course is playing. I think there’s a lot more guys with a chance.”

Molinari turned in a spotless scorecard for the second straight day, making key par saves at 4 and 5 before a back-nine birdie spree separated him from the pack. He made another great par save on 18 that has him two clear of the field.

Woods is in his best position heading into a final round at Augusta National since 2007 when he was alone in second through 54 holes. He birdied three of four holes late, including 16 to tie for the lead, for a third-round 67 to cement his spot in Sunday’s final grouping for the first time in more than a decade.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in contention here. But then again, the last two majors counts for something,” he said. “I’ve been in the mix with a chance to win major championships in the last two years. And so that helps. And tomorrow it will be - it will be interesting to see if that wind comes up like it’s forecast, 15, 20 miles an hour around this golf course is going to be testy. And got to be committed, hit the proper shots and then hopefully we time it right.”

If he does time it right and win his fifth green jacket, Augusta National will likely reach a decibel level untouched in golf since Jack Nicklaus won his sixth in 1986.

But he’s not the only player with a chance to win.

Finau was one of the day’s biggest movers, making six birdies and an eagle on 8 for an 8-under 64 to join Woods at 11 under. This is just Finau’s second Masters, but he’s already shown that he’s more than comfortable at Augusta – he tied for 10th last year when he shot a 66 in the final round.

“I was happy to post the number I did, but more than anything, just keep my foot on the gas pedal and not let off,” he said, ”... but I’m well in contention, and I’m happy about that.”

Brooks Koepka, a co-leader after each of the first two rounds, is three shots back at 10 under after a 69. At 9 are Webb Simpson, who like Finau briefly had a piece of the lead after shooting 64, and Ian Poulter (68).

They’re all chasing Molinari, the unflappable Italian who played bogey-free Sunday at Carnoustie last July to win the British Open – when he was paired with Woods.

“I think how I hit the ball tomorrow will help my comfort a lot more than thinking about Carnoustie. I don’t think I’ll be thinking about Carnoustie a lot tomorrow,” he said. “You know, it’s going to be a battle. There’s him, a lot of guys. Like I said, yeah, it’s great, but you know, it’s a different tournament, different course. A few months has been passed by, and anything can happen tomorrow.”

There is a potential third way Molinari can’t win on Sunday, and that’s if bad weather forces a Monday finish. Tee times have been moved up, with the players going off in threesomes off the first and 10th tees, to try to complete the round before storms roll in to Augusta.