Masters report: What happened on Saturday at Augusta National?

A run of four straight birdies on the back nine saw Francesco Molinari take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Masters.

The Open champion was again imperious at Augusta National – carding another bogey free round, this time a 66, as he inched towards the precious Green Jacket.

A rain-softened Augusta was at its most inviting, with Tony Finau, Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay all shooting 8-under 64s.

Leaderboard | Tee times

But Molinari’s poise has been impressive all week and the hero of Carnoustie, and the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, stamped his authority on this star-studded leaderboard with successive birdies from the 12th to the 15th.

Finau’s heroics – he went round the front nine in 30 – sees him leading the challengers along with Tiger Woods.

Woods charged into the fray with a trio of birdies from the 6th to the 8th but rode his luck at times – particularly with an aggressive tee shot at 13 that could easily have gone into a tributary of Rae’s Creek.

He used that fortune and three birdies down the stretch resulted in a 67 and the chance to take on the Italian once again in the final group.

The four-time Masters winner came off second best in his head-to-head duel with Molinari in Scotland last July when the Claret Jug was on the line.

And he will have to do something he’s never managed before if he is to get his hands on major No. 15 – win without starting in the lead.

Woods, Molinari and Finau are only part of what will surely prove to be a mesmerising final act to the year’s first major.

Ten players remain within five shots of the lead and Simpson, Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter – whose classy birdie at the last set the seal on a 68 – are among those within touching distance.

It should be quite a day.

Masters report: Day three talking points

masters report

There’s not been a Monday finish at the Masters since 1983 and the Green Jackets have moved to try and make sure there isn’t one this year either.

The weather forecast is varying between inclement and apocalyptic depending on where you look – with the chances of thunderstorms estimated at 80% and winds reaching 30mph – and so the tee times for the final round have been adjusted.

The usual two-balls have become three, getting under way at 12.30pm UK time off both the 1st and 10th tees – and that really is a tradition like no other. The leaders will be out at 2.20pm.

But while we will be robbed of our midnight Sunday finish, it has to be the right decision.

Golf is a sport that is at the mercy of the elements, of course, but it’s better to have the destiny of the Masters decided in this fashion – rather than by the player who handles a weather delay the best.

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A stunning stat from our friends across the pond which really just showed how defenceless Augusta National became after the rain softened up the course.

Interestingly, despite the trend in lengthening the layout over the past couple of decades, a GolfWeek report last week revealed the average under par score has risen considerably over the past quarter of a century.

So do we like seeing a birdie fest on this most venerable of courses? Dan Murphy and Alex Perry debate in Alternate Shot.

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masters report

I’m not sure when I’ve watched Rory McIlroy looking quite so resigned as he did in his post round media chat after a third round 71 – an effort that basically ended his Grand Slam hopes for another year.

This was supposed to be the Northern Irishman’s time. He was meant to capitalise on a softer golf course and take advantage of some fine form coming in.

But the consistency McIlroy has shown during the first three months of the year has deserted him over three days at Augusta.

Fourteen bogeys in 54 holes just won’t cut it and, even though he’s hasn’t yet turned 30, I do wonder whether the stress of trying to join such an elite group – only five players have managed to win all four majors – might mean he’ll never do it.

It feels to me there’s a touch of the Ernie Els about him here now. Fate conspired against the South African in his bid to grasp the Green Jacket – remember what happened to him in 2004? – and Augusta’s the sort of place that can get in your head when you’ve taken one too many punch.

I hope I’m wrong and time is still on the four-time major winner’s side. We’ve been saying that, though, since 2011…

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masters report

Ian Woosnam’s had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra but this time he says he’s definitely hung up his clubs at the Masters.

If you think you’ve heard all this before it’s because you have. The 1991 champion retired from playing the Masters in 2016 but the lure of the azaleas – and a telling off from his wife Glendryth – persuaded him to change his mind.

He’ll still play the Par 3 contest and attend the Champions Dinner, but his days of turning up for two days of competition and missing the cut are over.

“It’s a shame because I feel like I’m still playing pretty good,”  he said, even though rounds of 80 and 76 saw him fail to make the halfway stage for the 11th consecutive year.

The Welshman was one of the heroes of European golf when I was growing up and watching him win the Green Jacket 28 years ago, and then defend it so strongly the year after, was a genuine thrill.

But the 61-year-old struggles to get round the course these days – he suffers from ankylosing spondylitis – and, as I said on day one, a major should be about brilliance not sentimentality.

Masters report: Best quote

It had to be a special round to get in contention tomorrow. You can never make the 8-under rounds happen but I’m happy it did.

Webb Simpson reflects on his third-round 64.

Masters report: Best moments

A mic-drop moment before Lefty got anywhere near the first tee. This take down of Matt Kuchar is brutal…

Then he did this. Phil being Phil…

And then he did it again…

Crystal time for Rory, but far from the prize he wanted this week…

Find me a better approach than this. I’ll wait…

Masters report: Betting update

Another impressive round from Francesco Molinari naturally sees him installed as the clear favourite with bet365 to claim the Green Jacket.

The Italian is 7/4 going into the final day with Tiger Woods (100/30) the nearest challenger.

Anyone who saw the way Molinari dealt with the final round pressure at Carnoustie last year, and then how he smashed through the field to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational only a month ago, will probably say it’s fair enough.

But we can still get a 1/4 of the odds each-way for the first three places and, despite his dropped shot at the last, if Dustin Johnson can get going on Sunday we might expect a return at odds of 25/1.

The intermittent World No. 1 has rather coasted through the first three days but he is just within reach of Molinari at five back and is only three off second.

It’s a bit of a risk, but he is certainly capable of taking advantage of a course that is expected to be hit by even more rain overnight.

For all the latest prices and markets, visit bet365.

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