Perry poised to master Augusta?
Augusta, Easter Sunday - The Masters will welcome a brand new champion on Sunday unless one of the world's two best players can pull off the next best thing to a miracle.
No player has come back from more than eight shots adrift in the final round to win a Green Jacket - and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the highest-placed former champions at seven back. There are nine players above the illustrious duo on the leaderboard and seven alongside them at four under. But these two are the only past winners in sight, save for Vijay Singh at three under.
Jack Burke Jr came from eight down to win in 1956, while Gary Player battled from seven back in 1978 and Nick Faldo (1996), Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) and Art Wall Jr (1959) have all overhauled six-shot deficits. But no-one's recovered from more than two adrift since Faldo caught Greg Norman 13 years ago. And 17 of the last 18 winners have come from the final group.
All of which goes to show that Woods has got to pull off something special to win a fifth Green Jacket. Especially given that he has won all 14 of his majors when leading or sharing the lead going into the final day. Mickelson, too, has not only got to impersonate a magician, he's got to be one, if he is to win a third Masters in six years.
Unlikely, then. But watching them try should be electric. Make that nuclear - Woods and Mickelson are paired together at 1335 (1835 BST). "At this golf course funny things can happen," said Mickelson. "If you get momentum on your side and you're making birdies, you can make a lot of them. But when it starts coming apart, it's easy to tumble."
More probable is that the winner will be either Angel Cabrera, Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell or Jim Furyk. Cabrera and Perry are the joint leaders, while Campbell and Furyk are two and three shots adrift respectively. Cabrera and Furyk are former US Open champions, while Perry and Campbell are chasing a maiden major title.
Cabrera, who won the US Open in 2007, is the loping, casual, big-hitter from Argentina. He looks like he doesn't care, but maybe his grip-it-and-rip-it-style will be too cavalier for a Masters Sunday. Mind you, it's got him to 11 under so he should probably stick with it. "Having won a major it gives you confidence," he said. "The most difficult one to win is the first one."
Playing alongside him in the final group on Sunday, Perry seems to have the force on his side. He was desperate to make his second Ryder Cup appearance last year in his native Kentucky and pulled it off, becoming a folk hero in the process. He has also won on the PGA Tour this year to climb to 11th in the world. "That Ryder Cup taught me a lot," said the popular "KP". "I set some goals, didn't think I could make it. I made it."
To cap it all, Perry, at 48 years and seven months, would become the oldest Masters winner ever, breaking Jack Nicklaus's mark of 46 years in 1986. He would also become the oldest ever major winner, eclipsing Julius Boros, who was 48 years and four months when he won the US PGA in 1968.
Standing on the 18th tee with Campbell waiting to tee off on Saturday evening, with the overnight lead up for grabs, Perry looked as casual as a man standing in a supermarket queue planning what to have for tea. Campbell looked fidgety, nervous.
"We've got 18 holes to go and I'm in a good spot," said Perry. "I've got something I can achieve that will move me another notch up the totem pole on the PGA Tour. I'm never thinking 'superstar' but most people who talk about me say I'm a nice guy and I'm a good player. That's about all you hear. So maybe things will change."
Campbell, though, was third at Augusta in 2006 and has played in three Ryder Cups so he should be comfortable when the heat comes on. Furyk, meanwhile, has had three top sixes in 12 Masters, most recently a fourth in 2003. The world number 15, with the individual swing, is a sharp operator and has walked through the flames before, when he won the US Open in 2003.
One behind Furyk is Steve Stricker, not all that long ago ranked fourth in the world, and a solid, underrated player. He's still only one spot below Perry in the world rankings and could be the dark horse. Of the rest, Todd Hamilton, at six under, has the experience of winning a major. Now ranked 373rd in the world, he held his nerve to stun Ernie Els in a play-off for the Open at Royal Troon in 2004.
Also at six is Shingo Katayama, the Japanese in the cowboy hat, and feisty South African Rory Sabbatini. Both have shot 67s this week and will need at least that on Sunday. South African Tim Clark, at minus five, has an outside chance of becoming the first man to win the par three and the Masters in the same year.
If anyone, including Woods or Mickelson, wins from four under and below, they will have had the round of their lives and some dark deeds will have occurred above them. But, for me, there's just something about Kenny. Unless, of course, Mickelwoods goes ballistic.