Chad Campbell has been here before.
In 2006, Campbell’s -6 total at the halfway stage was enough to put him atop the leaderboard—three shots clear of his nearest rival.
Then on Saturday, the weather came in late and played havoc with the leaders who had just teed off. Campbell, like those in the pairings around him, struggled in the conditions to a disappointing 75. Ultimately it was this misfortune that cost him a real chance at the title, and he finished three behind eventual winner Phil Mickelson’s -7 total.
Three years later, the 34-year-old knows the challenge that will face him later today. Level with Kenny Perry at the head of the field, the two men will tee-off last knowing that—as long as the weather doesn’t change for the worse—any improvement on their -9 totals will put them firmly in contention before tomorrow’s final round.
Campbell has undoubtedly been the form player of the tournament so far, marking down birdies on his card with seemingly reckless abandon. Only the odd errant shot down the stretch has prevented the Texan from possessing sole ownership of the lead.
The three-time Ryder Cup player looks ready to step up and become a major champion, although the fact he hasn’t won a tournament since 2007 poses questions about his temperament under pressure. Nevertheless, perhaps he will take encouragement from last year’s winner Trevor Immelman—who, like Campbell so far, led the tournament through all four rounds.
If Campbell is the half-way favourite, then Perry is certainly not to be underestimated. The 48-year-old is bidding to become the oldest major winner in history, and unlike Campbell is coming off the back of a rich vein of form which saw him win his 13th PGA title at the FBR Open in March. Perhaps most notably, the Kentucky native is a devout drawer of the ball—something that suits Augusta’s layout to a tee.
Unfortunately for both men, the field beneath them is littered with talented players more than capable of helping “Moving Day” live up to its name. At -8, Angel Cabrera will be breathing down their necks from the get-go.
The 2007 US Open winner has major calibre and—more significantly—major length, and is capable of overpowering the Augusta course given the chance. His short game—which varies from delightful to disastrous from day-to-day—needs to be solid though.
Cabrera will be partnered with Todd Hamilton, another major winner. The 2004 British Open champion is nearing the end of the tournament exemptions that triumph permits him, and has not been in great form in recent times.
Perhaps preoccupied with ensuring a decent finish, and perhaps demoralised by Cabrera’s prodigious power, it would take an impressive mental effort for the Canadian to keep himself firmly in contention.
At -5, South African Tim Clark will look forward to improving upon his runner-up finish at the tournament in 2006. But, having won the Par 3 tournament on Wednesday, the 33-year-old will have to overcome the curse that has seen nobody go on from that triumph to win the main event.
At -4 and under lie a litany of talented players—with Jim Furyk and Anthony Kim looking very comfortable the way they are playing. Kim, coming off the back of a course record 11 birdies in his second round, will no doubt attract a large crowd—and judging by his performances in last year’s Ryder Cup, it is something he will thrive off.
The youngster cannot be underestimated, but Augusta usually gets its pound of flesh from the inexperienced before the tournament is out (just ask Rory McIlroy).
European interest lies with the mercurial Spaniard Sergio Garcia. So close in the past, Mickelson’s successor as “the best player never to have won a major” enjoyed his first sub-par round at the Masters in 12 attempts yesterday. So often Garcia’s putting has been his downfall in major championships—but he holed two 10-footers in the last three holes on Friday to suggest his putting this week is lukewarm at worst.
Judging by the iron play we have seen from him so far, that might be all the 29-year-old needs to mount a strong challenge come Sunday.
Like Chad Campbell, Phil Mickelson will be drawing on memories from the 2006 tournament for inspiration. Then the American was three behind, but made ground as the leaders fell foul of the weather, and cemented his second green jacket with a great final round.
Currently sitting at -3, Mickelson will undoubtedly feel that he is still very much in the hunt. And paired with Geoff Ogilvy—who himself looks dangerous this week—the two might well spur each other on to record stunning third rounds.
One man who most certainly will believe he is still in the hunt is Tiger Woods. Looking to add to his 14 major trophies, Woods’ -2 total leaves him with a fair amount of work to do. His putting has been slightly off the mark this week, and unless this changes (or he really dials in his iron shots) it will be difficult—even for a man of his talents—to make up any real ground on a top-ten that looks primed for low scoring.
Saturday has always been known as “moving day”, and the 50 players who made the cut will all know that they can put themselves firmly in contention with a round in the mid 60's.
But Campbell, Perry, and Cabrera have given themselves a great foundation on which to build a challenge, and it is up to rest of the field to ensure that it is not those three who move out of sight before Sunday's final round.
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