AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Look past the muck and the mess covering Augusta National. This Masters is shaping up to be a real beauty.
Tiger Woods roared into his familiar position, pointing confidently to the cup as his birdie putt disappeared on the final hole Saturday to give him a 6-under 66 and a share of the lead.
Staring him in the eye is Retief Goosen, the unflappable U.S. Open champion who looks as if he's about to take a nap even at the most pressure-packed moments.
Vijay Singh was only two strokes behind, a victim of a few bad swings and mud on his ball, but still very much in position to claim his second green jacket in three years.
Go down the top seven spots in the world ranking and the only guy not on the star-studded leaderboard was David Duval, who missed the cut and was already home in Florida when another dynamic Masters began to unfold.
''I feel very comfortable because I've been here before,'' Woods said.
Just last year, Woods battled chief rivals Duval and Phil Mickelson on the back nine Sunday to win the Masters and complete his historic sweep of the majors.
That kind of history isn't on the line, but the prospects are just as tantalizing
When Arnold Palmer said goodbye after 48 years at the Masters and the rain finally subsided, the stars began to emerge.
It wasn't just Woods, Goosen and Singh. Filling out this year's cast was Mickelson, two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els and 22-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
''It's going to be a dogfight,'' Garcia said.
Goosen hit into the trees on the 18th hole and made bogey to fall into a share of the lead with Woods at 11-under 205, but last-minute mistakes are nothing new for the South African.
Remember, Goosen three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd hole at Southern Hills and had to come back the next day and beat Mark Brooks in a playoff.
''That was a little bit different,'' Goosen said after his 69. ''There's only one guy you had to beat. There's still a few guys with a chance.''
And one of those guys is Woods.
No one knows how to cope with the pressure at Augusta better than Woods, who set a Masters record with his 10th consecutive round under par. A victory Sunday would make him only the third player to repeat as Masters champion.
He is having to work overtime for this one.
Woods had to play 26 holes on Saturday, eight of them in the morning to finish a second round that was delayed by rain, which turned immaculate Augusta into a muddy mess.
Two birdies and four par-saving putts inched him closer, and then Woods had a vintage round to make him a favorite to win his third green jacket.
''My goal starting out this afternoon was to get into double digits,'' Woods said of his 11-under par total. ''I got there. I really wanted to get into that final group.''
He got there, too, which was important because Woods is 22-2 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He has won all six of his majors from out front.
But Woods needed some help.
Goosen birdied the first hole to tie Singh for the lead, and never gave it back the rest of the day. He twice led by as many as two strokes, but he let it slip away at the end with a bogey.
''It's going to be tough,'' Goosen said. ''Any final round in a major is difficult. It's going to be difficult for Tiger, as well. He also has to go out there and do his thing. It's going to be an exciting day.''
Mickelson had a bogey-free 68, not as low as he wanted but enough to give himself a chance to win that elusive first major. Sunday will be the ninth time Mickelson has entered the final round of a major within five strokes of the lead.
Working against him is the fact he has never broken 70 on Sunday at Augusta. And the guys in front of him are all major championship winners.
''If I do get that low round tomorrow, it very well may be good enough,'' Mickelson said. ''With the quality of the leaderboard, with Tiger being up there ... those guys are not going to come back. I'm going to have to go catch them.''
Mickelson will be playing with Singh, the 36-hole leader who was tied with Goosen through 14 holes. That's when the trouble started for the 2000 Masters champion.
His approach into the par-5 15th green went long and left, bounced hard off the hump behind the green and rolled into the pond. He made bogey, then dropped another shot on No. 17 when his birdie putt ran about 15 feet past the cup and he missed coming back.
Singh attributed his mistake on the 15th to mud being on his ball, which makes it difficult to control. In fact, he said mud balls might have cost him three shots in his round of 72.
''The weather situation is unfortunate, but it's out of our control,'' he said. ''Are you going to practice hitting mud balls? No.''
Els also looked back on wasted shots.
The Big Easy had a sensational start to his day by going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie in the morning to complete a 67, then picking up two more birdies early in the third round to get within one shot of the lead.
But he made back-to-back bogeys starting on No. 10, failed to make birdie on the par 5s and dropped another shot on the final hole by driving into the trees. He had a 72.
''I'm disappointed, but I'm not out of it,'' Els said.
The possibilities don't stop there.
Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal rallied for a 71 and was at 210, but that's as far back for anyone who has a decent chance -- not with Woods leading at Augusta, and not with so many other proven players vying for golf's most prestigious prize.
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