The Masters: Tiger Woods’ defence set to end after long third day at Augusta

Tiger Woods admitted playing 26 holes on day three of the Masters had taken its toll after a third-round 72 effectively ended his hopes of defending the title successfully.

Returning to the 11th fairway to complete his second round, Woods enjoyed a solid start to Saturday at Augusta National as he ground out a series of pars punctured by a lone birdie at 15, carding a 71 to reach the halfway stage just four shots off the lead on five under.

But with Dustin Johnson opening up a commanding lead in the third round, Woods was unable to stay in contention and raised concerns over his suspect back when he showed signs of discomfort when picking his ball out of the hole after a bogey at the eighth.

The defending champion dropped another shot at the 11th before finally getting a birdie on his card with a 12-foot putt at the 12th, and he managed to get back to level par for the round at the 15th before closing out a 72 with three straight pars.

With Johnson cruising, Woods is resigned to presenting the Green Jacket to the champion on Sunday rather than celebrating a sixth Augusta win and a 16th major title.

“It’s a long progression,” said Woods when asked about the state of his back. “These are long days. I had my day off yesterday, which was nice, but today was not the case. We’ve been at it for quite some time, but it’s just part of the deal. If you have long days like this, I’m going to get a little bit sore, which I definitely am.

“I can walk all day, the hard part is bending and twisting. I think that’s part of the game, though, and so that’s always been the challenge with my back issues and I guess will always continue to be.

“I was focused on trying to get myself in contention going into tomorrow. I don’t know exactly what position I’m in, but I certainly will be part of the early split and get after it tomorrow. We’ll see how emotional it’ll be after tomorrow’s round.”

Woods also gave an insight of the significant changes at Augusta since his first Masters appearance 25 years ago, and that his advancing years prevent him from attacking and overpowering the course as he did in his prime.

“When I first played it, I thought this was one of the shortest and most open golf courses that I thought there was,” said Woods, who turns 45 next month. “It was just a driver and a wedge everywhere, and there really wasn’t a bunker off the tee that was in play.

“The first time I played here, I drove a three-wood into the bunker on 10. Obviously the tees have been all lengthened and it’s a very different golf course. The fairways were all cut downgrain at the time.

“I never really hit anything more than an eight-iron into a par-four, so I never would I have dreamt that this golf course would have been changed this much, would have been lengthened this much and have been playing this much longer than it was then.”

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