AUGUSTA: Sergio Garcia, chasing his first major title after 73 failures, shared the lead with Justin Rose halfway into Sunday's (Apr 9) final round of the Masters, setting up an emotional back-nine drama.
The 37-year-old Spaniard and reigning Olympic champion Rose of England stood on eight-under par after nine holes on Sunday at Augusta National with American Rickie Fowler third, three strokes adrift with eight holes remaining. South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, was four-under in fourth with six holes to play.
Garcia's nearly two decades of major frustration added to the building back-nine tension at the year's first major tournament, with famed Amen Corner - the tricky 11th to 13th holes winding around Rae's Creek - awaiting the leaders.
Garcia hopes to capture the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol Seve Ballesteros, a two-time Masters winner and three-time British Open champion who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I don't even know how much it would mean," Garcia said of winning Sunday. "It would be nice to have a chance and hopefully do it."
Garcia opened with a birdie, sinking a four-foot putt to move into the lead alone, and added another at the third to reach eight-under, jumping two strokes ahead of Rose, who answered a bogey at the fifth with a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-3 sixth.
Garcia sank an eight-foot par putt after finding a greenside bunker at the par-4 seventh, the ball dropping into the right edge of the cup, prompting a smile and a fist pump from the determined Spaniard.
GET THE JOB DONE
But Rose birdied seven to trim Garcia's edge and sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-5 eighth to pull level with the Spaniard, who missed a six-foot birdie putt of his own at the eighth. Each parred nine.
Garcia, four times a major runner-up, has the third-most major starts of any player without a major title, trailing Englishman Lee Westwood and Scotland's Colin Montgomerie on 75 and the record 87 of American Jay Haas.
Potential eagles and possible mishaps forced difficult decisions upon the world's greatest shotmakers with crowds ready to scream in delight, their roars echoing through the Georgia pine trees.
"This course gives you some opportunities out there but there can be some trouble as well," Rose said as he prepared to start his final round. "You have to stay committed to the shot."
Two-time major champion Martin Kaymer of Germany showed the back nine opportunities by making five consecutive birdies, the last three in Amen Corner.
Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion who started two shots back, made bogeys on three of the first six holes and another at 10 to fall out of the hunt.
Fowler birdied the third but followed with back-to-back bogeys to stumble back before a birdie at eight.
Making a charge was England's Paul Casey, who birdied the second and third and closed the front nine with back-to-back birdies. But a bogey at 11 left him five back with five holes to play.
Rose, who won his first major at the 2013 US Open, captured the first Olympic golf crown since 1904 last year in Rio. The Englishman shared second at the Masters in 2015 behind Spieth.
"It's very difficult to not let your mind wander, to think about what it would be like to win, but you've still got to get the job done and those thoughts don't necessarily help you do that," said Rose.
Spieth, who also captured the 2015 US Open, was a Masters runner-up last year after a Sunday back-nine meltdown.
The biggest last-round deficit overcome by any winner was eight strokes by Jack Burke in 1956.