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Woods chasing Scheffler in bid for Masters miracle

Tiger Woods tees off in the third round of the Masters at Augusta National © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / JAMIE SQUIRE

Augusta (United States) (AFP), Apr 9 – Tiger Woods had a mountain to climb as he teed off on Saturday at the Masters trying to chase down Scottie Scheffler and give himself a shot at capping his most remarkable comeback yet with a sixth green jacket.

The 15-time major champion, playing in his first tournament in 17 months and the first since suffering career-threatening injuries to his lower right leg in a car crash 14 months ago, opened with a bogey for the second straight day, three-putting from 51 feet.

It was a let-down for the fans still glued to Woods’s every move, even though he started the day nine shots off Scheffler’s lead and would have to author the greatest 36-hole comeback in Masters history to win.

Woods, who feared after his crash that he might lose his right leg, delivered a gutsy performance on Friday, flirting with his first missed cut in 22 appearances as a professional at Augusta National before rallying with a two-over 74 that left him on one-over 145.

Newly minted world number one Scheffler defied the swirling winds that pushed up second-round scores to card a five-under par 67, his eight-under total of 136 putting him five shots clear of defending champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, South Korean Im Sung-jae and 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.

Matsuyama is trying to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods as the only players to win back-to-back Masters.

Noting that Scheffler managed to “take care of his business” despite the demanding second-round conditions, Woods said he would have to do the same on Saturday.

“I could have easily kicked myself out of the tournament, but I kept myself in it,” Woods said. “I need to go out there and put myself there. If you’re within five or six on that back nine going into Sunday, you’ve got a chance, so I just need to get there.”

Woods said the dry, chilly weather — it was around 50F (10C) under overcast skies when Woods teed off — would make the course firmer and faster.

He liked the idea of that challenge, but has said that cold weather is harder on his surgically repaired back.

A litany of injuries has been the backdrop to the stunning career that has made Woods a sensation beyond the golf and sports world.

His fifth Masters title in 2019 capped an unlikely comeback from spinal fusion surgery that could have ended his career.

Now he’s seeking an even more improbable return.

“Well, I don’t feel as good as I would like to feel,” Woods said with a rueful laugh after the second round. “That’s OK. I’ve got a chance going into the weekend.”

Although the gap to Scheffler is considerable, Woods notably went into the weekend just four shots behind the quartet sharing second.

– Chasing Scheffler –

Everyone is chasing Scheffler, the hottest player on the planet after nabbing his first US PGA Tour title at the Phoenix Open in February.

Victories followed at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC Match Play to see Scheffler supplant Jon Rahm atop the world rankings.

Now he has the lead in a major championship for the first time.

Scheffler, who came from off the pace in his two stroke-play tournament victories, insisted his commanding lead was not a source of pressure.

“If anything, it gives me more confidence,” said Scheffler, who was to tee of at 2:50 p.m. (1850 GMT) alongside Schwartzel. “As long as I’m committed to everything, everything should be fine. The rest really isn’t up to me.”

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