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Masterful Francesco Molinari has Tiger Woods on his tail

Masterful Francesco Molinari has Tiger Woods on his tail

Ahead of Woods, though, stands a thicket of major champions - Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen.

Koepka also took down Woods, at the US PGA last August when they conducted their epic duel on the final day. "I'm happy. I feel good".

He kick-started his charge with birdies on nine and 11 and hit his tee shot to eight feet on the short 12th - energy levels surged in the packed gallery around Amen Corner. But nearly immediately the siren sounded to suspend play because of a threat of thunderstorms. Ever the showman, Poulter listened to the deafening reception for the man with whom he shared the afternoon walk and then rolled in his 20ft birdie putt. As Woods moved off and the crowd closed in, a rushing marshal slipped and collided with Woods' ankle. Woods recoiled and limped off, but was none the worse for it.

"I just let the round build", he said.

That would change at the sixth, however, as Woods reeled off three straight birdies.

Woods has gone 14 years since he last won the green jacket, 11 years since his last major and had five surgeries - four on his back, the other to rebuild his left knee.

"It felt good to make some birdies", he told Sky Sports afterwards. "I've learned some things about that finish that I can apply to tomorrow and hopefully do better", Finau said. They'll go into Finau's trophy case at home.

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"I hit the ball a little less well than yesterday, " Molinari said. Maybe he needed Augusta National's elders to shock the world and turn this event on its head. Mother Nature is undefeated, and the green jackets bowed to her will by looking at the radar and responding smartly and forcefully. Woods held the Sunday lead at last year's Open Championship before Molinari beat him head-to-head.

"It was pretty solid, not many mistakes, and when I missed greens I missed on the good side".

The distance he gave up via a severely low-calorie diet in the weeks leading up to the Players Championship has not played a factor on the course, though it was a topic of discussion to start the week and led to the aforementioned clash with Chamblee, who scolded Koepka's "self-sabotage". But intensive physio helped him to a round of 67 Friday.

"The favorite is probably the golf course out there waiting for us, " he said.

"As a kid, I always wanted to compete against him and have the opportunity to ..." And now he goes into the weekend one shot behind, the closest he has been to a lead going into the weekend at a major since the 2013 British Open at Muirfield. "So I'm aware that it's not going to be easy tomorrow and, like I said, I can just do my best".

Woods is tied at 6-under for the tournament with Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Justin Harding, who is the only Masters newcomer in the group.