Masters of none

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Stuart Appleby had just triple bogeyed away the lead on 17. Tiger Woods was busy bludgeoning a holly tree in an effort to work out some posttraumatic stress. And so here was Vaughn Taylor, Augusta kid himself, nailing a rare birdie on 15 and, for a single beautiful moment, assuming the lead of the Masters right here in his hometown.

If kids dream of leading the Masters in Australia, imagine how it is when you grow up a couple of miles from Augusta National? The entire field was falling apart in the frosty, frothing wind – iron shots sailing 30 yards off target, three-foot putts in peril of a kicked up gust. Anything was possible.

It was completely ugly out there, one meltdown after the other, but Taylor had seen this stuff before, seen this weather, seen that wind. It may not have been in April, but certainly in January, when he would risk frostbite to work on his game, work on his dream of one day leading the Masters.

And suddenly there it was. Sure, it wasn't how he envisioned it, what with the bleachers half empty due to the cold. But maybe he'd be the one who wouldn't succumb, with the hometown advantage. What bad could happen now?

Try bogey-bogey-bogey, the Augusta avalanche finally destroying the last leader standing, no hometown discount for Taylor.

"I [need] a nice, long, hot shower," he said, head sagging after the collapse sent him statistically into a tie for third but mentally all but out of contention.

He looked like he needed a stiff drink, a psychologist and, perhaps, a suicide watch. Which made Taylor just like Appleby – the leader at 2-over – and Woods – an unlikely final pairing participant at 3-over – and pretty much anyone else foolish enough to try to play golf in the chaotic conditions wiping through this mean-spirited course Saturday.

The Masters went to hell in Round 3, which means on Easter Sunday golf fans should consider offering up a couple of extra Hail Marys for the boys of Amen Corner. They could use it.

This was a collection of the dragging and the depressed, the world's best golfers completely beaten down by the elements (wind chills in the 30s, wind gusts in the 20s) and the bullied-up course that features more distance, more trees and rough.

Never before had the leader after 54 holes here been over par. Not since 1956 had the average score for a day (77.57) been higher. Thirty-five of the 60 golfers who made the cut are 10-over or worse. The one guy who played well, Retief Goosen, saw his 2-under send him from last place to eighth. If he does that again, he actually could win this thing.

There were some truly catastrophic rounds. Consider the co-leaders heading into the weekend, Brett Wetterich and Tim Clark, who started the day at 2-under. Wetterich finished 9-over, Clark at 6-over. Ben Crenshaw and Arron Oberholser both shot 12-over for the day.

Appleby was the only golfer who spent any significant time under par for the tournament Saturday, only to blow it on 17 when he hit two bunkers and three putts for a triple bogey.

That was part of a mass backup of the field in the final two hours that saw this entire tournament get spun upside down. It began when Woods, who had pushed to 1-over and into contention, finished out bogey-bogey courtesy of two bad iron shots that got knocked down in the wind.

When he walked off the 18th green, down four strokes at the time, he looked like a man who had just kicked away the round, the tournament and a chance at the third leg of the Tiger Slam.

As he stood waiting for an interview with CBS to begin, he stared furiously back down the 18th fairway at the scene of the crimes and probably considered taking the interviewer's microphone and bludgeoning someone, if it weren't against golf etiquette, not to mention numerous laws and ordinances of the great state of Georgia, of course.

Finally, Tiger was asked if he thought he had let the round slip away.

"Yeah," he said. "And then some."

Later, as he headed to the practice tee still down four at that point, he slammed his hat against an unsuspecting holly tree that perhaps he mistook for former Masters master Hootie Johnson, who always wanted to "Tiger-proof" this place.

Of course, Woods wound up laughing last. The thing about making a course too tough for Tiger is that it also becomes too tough for everyone else. Woods wound up having the field give him back three strokes after he was done. Suddenly despite the disaster he thought had cost him, he was in the final pairing, where every Masters champion since 1991 has materialized.

If this were the NBA, people would say it was fixed for TV ratings.

Now he gets Appleby in the 2:15 p.m. ET final pairing, and even though Woods was all but batty after his round, he still probably is in better shape mentally than everyone else who walked off the course mumbling under his breath.

Can Appleby hold off Tiger to become the first Australian to win the Masters? Can he match Woods' steel will and menacing play? Well, it didn't sound like even Appleby was too convinced of that.

"What would you like me to say, that I cleaned him up all the time, I can beat him; I can hit it past him?" Appleby asked.

"No, no and no."

Other than that, he sounded pretty confident.

"He won't even know I'm there."

It was that kind of post-round discussion, where even the guys winning sounded like defeated losers, Woods included. At least for a while he sounded that way. The reason everyone thinks Woods will win Sunday is because he'll shake off the shellshock quickest. He was about the only one actually talking about winning.

"I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to win the championship," he declared. And he said that when he still was four strokes down. By the time Taylor fell apart he probably was putting the champagne on ice.

No one else was looking forward to anything. Vaughn Taylor, Mr. Augusta, the leader on 15, was asked about rebounding from the bogey-bogey-bogey and staging a dramatic come-from-behind Sunday victory, the ultimate dream of every neighborhood kid.

"It's tough to see that happening," he said somberly despite being just two strokes down.

No dreams here, just nightmares in breeze.

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