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Posted April 13, 2019, 11:34 pm
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Boyette: A win by Woods would rank among greatest comebacks

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    Tiger Woods walks by fans after shooting a 5-under round, putting him in a tie for second with Tony Finau, two shots back of Molinari. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Tiger Woods had not even hit a shot Saturday, and already he was producing cheers.

When he stepped out of the clubhouse shortly before his 2:05 p.m. tee time to make his way to the putting green, the onlookers assembled underneath the big oak tree and the patrons pressed up against the ropes made it clear who they were pulling for.

There are Augusta roars. And then there are Tiger roars.

“Did you hear when he walked out here?” three-time Masters winner Gary Player said. “He moves the needle.”

PHOTOS: Tiger's Saturday at the Masters

Sunday could be the biggest needle move in the history of golf. Think back to some of the seminal moments in the game: Francis Ouimet at The Country Club, 1913. Bobby Jones at Merion, 1930. Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills, 1960. Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National, 1986. Tiger Woods at Augusta National, 1997.

A victory by Woods would be right up there. It would move him closer to two of his career goals: Nicklaus’ major total of 18 and Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record of 82 wins. Tiger is currently sitting on 14 majors and 80 PGA Tour victories.

“If he can win it gives golf the boost it needs,” Player said. “We need a big boost now for young people because they’re doing cycling and other sports now, rounds are going down ... It would be a dream.”

Woods had a sluggish start to the third round, playing his first five holes in 1-over fashion, before his putter heated up. Birdies at 6, 7 and 8 kept him current on a day when the field was lapping Augusta National to the tune of eight eagles and 277 birdies.

PHOTOS: Round 3 at The Masters

If you didn’t shoot 68 or better Saturday, you didn’t stand a chance. Three golfers fired 64s, and leader Francesco Molinari followed up Friday’s 67 with a 66 to produce a two-shot lead. Saturday’s scoring average of 70.77 was a record for the third round.

“I saw the number at 11 that Tony (Finau) was posting. And quite a bit of guys behind me,” he said. “I think Francesco got to 12 (under) and I was still playing. And so I’m just making sure that I stayed in double digits.”

Woods didn’t let up on the incoming nine, and neither did his roars. He got through Amen Corner unscathed, even though he hit a wayward drive at 11 that turned out to be so far right it was OK and another off a shrub on 12 that bounced back to the correct side of the fairway. After birdies at 13 and 15, he hit his tee shot at 16 to 7 feet. The patrons rose in anticipation when he rolled his birdie putt toward the cup, and then roared when it fell in.

“I putted well,” Woods said. “I felt if I got the speed better, they would start going in.”

As he walked up 18, completing his 67, he received another long ovation. Augusta’s faithful knows what’s at stake.

“There could be more tomorrow,” CBS’ Jim Nantz said on the broadcast.

Woods has now contended in three consecutive majors, and the guys who beat him in the last two (Molinari and Brooks Koepka) are in the mix today. Molinari, who won the British Open while playing alongside Woods, knows what to expect as he and Finau are in the final grouping with Woods.

“I mean, with Tiger, you don’t even have to look at the leaderboard,” he said. “You hear what’s going on pretty much.”

Woods has won four times at Augusta National, and his last one in 2005 is eerily similar to this year. That’s the last time split tees were used, and his 54-hole total also was 11-under. But he's never won a major after trailing through three rounds.

Player is in his seventh decade of professional golf, and he’s seen a thing or two. He said Woods should have more than 20 majors already, but his decision to tinker with his swing after his phenomenal 2000 season cost him.

Then injuries and surgeries took their toll, and Woods hasn’t been 100 percent healthy for years. Last year he played a full schedule, and earned his first PGA Tour win in five years.

Player compared Woods to Ben Hogan, who came back to win six of his nine career majors after a horrific car crash.

“I suppose you could say Ben Hogan’s was amazing, but Hogan’s was an injury, it wasn’t injuries and mental,” Player said. “So I would classify that if (Woods) could come back and win a major it would be the greatest comeback in the history of golf.”