First-time streak could continue at Masters

AUGUSTA — The past two Masters titles went to players who survived major tournament pressure for the first time in their career.

Today’s final round could make it three straight.

The top nine players on the leaderboard entering the final round have combined for three major championships: one each for Angel Cabrera, Jim Furyk and Todd Hamilton.

Cabrera is tied for the Masters lead with Kenny Perry at 11-under-par 205, while Chad Campbell is two shots back and Furyk is at 8 under. Cabrera won the 2007 U.S. Open, while Furyk won the same tournament in 2003 and Hamilton won the 2004 British Open.

Campbell and Perry each have finished second in the PGA Championship.

“It would probably be the pinnacle of my career, by far, to win this golf tournament,” Perry said of his chances today after focusing his schedule last year on the Ryder Cup. “I can’t say how much last year at Valhalla meant to me, for me and my dad and my family.

“I don’t even want to look ahead. I just want to focus and be ready (for the final round).”

Cabrera has been steady throughout the week, backing up a pair of 68s with a 69 on Saturday. Perry has shot rounds of 68-67-70, and Campbell has struggled to rounds of 70-72 after firing a 65 on Thursday.

Then there’s Furyk, who was strong Thursday with a 66 before a 74 in the second round. He rebounded with a 68 on Saturday, a round that included two birdies on the front nine, three straight birdies on the back and only one bogey on No. 17.

“I felt more in control. I felt pretty good with my golf swing,” Furyk said. “I left a couple of putts out there, but you always do that here at Augusta. I’m happy. I’m disappointed with the bogey coming in, especially after playing so good on the back nine. But it was a good round, and I’m in good position.”

Cabrera and Perry are in the best position after Campbell stumbled down the stretch. Campbell was at 11 under before a double-bogey and a bogey in the final three holes to drop out of the final group today.

Cabrera and Perry took advantage of his problems to get in the final group. Cabrera was at 9 under after a bogey on the 14th hole, but he birdied the 15th and 17th get back in control. Perry was at 12 under after a birdie on the ninth hole before consecutive bogeys.

He finished with a birdie and five straight pars.

“I’m playing it well, playing it smart,” said Perry, who at 48 can become the oldest ever player to win a major. “I’m playing position golf. And my game is working right now. So, 48’s just a number for me.”

Behind the top four is Steve Stricker at 7 under. He was one of five players Saturday to shoot a 68, the best round of the day. Another shot back are Rory Sabbatini, Shingo Katayama and Hamilton, and Tim Clark is at 5 under.

Then there is a group of nine players at 4 under, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. They have combined to win six Masters titles (more than the rest of the players who made the cut combined) and will play together at 1:35 p.m. today. But everyone will be chasing Perry and Cabrera.

“It was a spectacular round,” Cabrera said. “I was able to keep patient and confident going forward, hitting good shots. And it was a good round.

“I’m lucky enough to be in a very good position. I haven’t been in this position before, so I’m going to try to make the most of it.”