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McIlroy, Woods, Mickelson bring drama to Masters third round

Saturday is so good that when somebody calls the Masters a tradition like no other, you don’t wince.

Rory McIlroy makes a run, Tiger Woods makes a run and Phil Mickelson makes a run. Charley Hoffman hangs tough and Justin Rose plays as well as anybody on the course.

If you’re a fan of humanity as well as golf, you don’t pull for the leader – 21-year-old Jordan Spieth – to crack.

But on a beautiful sunshiny day that’s great for golf, or anything else, you want to see great players hit great shots. And they do, repeatedly. No matter where you stand you hear distant applause and cheers. Wait long enough and you’ll hear them on the hole at which you stand.

The result is, for the first time in the 2015 Masters, drama.

I don’t know if what occurs on the 10th tee constitutes drama. But I think it does.

As Woods stands over the ball, goes through his full routine and prepares to hit, the player with which he is paired says something like “Excuse me.” Woods steps away from the ball and Sergio Garcia sneezes. Woods returns to the ball and again begins the process. At no point in the stand-sneeze-drive sequence does Woods look at Garcia.

After the round somebody tells Garcia that he and Woods don’t seem to talk a lot.

“Really?” Garcia asks.

Woods is the New Happy Tiger. Several of us broke the news this week. But even new happiness has limits.

Many of you don’t like Woods and, based on my email, believe that he should never be written about, televised or publicly acknowledged. But when he birdies 2, 3 and 4 the jolt is palpable. Frenzied is how Augusta National suddenly feels. Woods adds three more birdies and finishes 4-under par.

En route to a quick post-round interview, Woods taps a writer on the back of his head. It’s a light little tap, humorous. The New Happy Tiger is back.

“I think what I’ve done all week has been pretty good,” says Woods. He adds: “I’ve got to shoot a super low one (Sunday), but at least I’ve given myself a chance going in.”

McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, eagles No. 2 and birdies Nos. 8, 9, 13 and 15. But he bogeys two of the last three holes and, like Woods, shoots a 68.

He’s asked if he feels Spieth mounting a challenge for his No. 1 ranking.

“No, not really,” says McIlroy. “I just have to worry about myself.” He adds: Spieth is “playing very well. But I know I have the capability to do the same thing.”

Mickelson is ranked 22nd in the world. He still gets “PHIL!” cheers no matter where he goes. He probably gets them when he shops for groceries, if he shops for groceries. But whether you drive a race car or a golf ball, age will get you.

On Saturday, Mickelson, 44, gets it back. He birdies Nos. 2, 3, 4, 9, 13, 15 and 16. On 16, the birdie requires a 41-foot putt.

Mickelson is more gracious than graceful, but his post-putt celebration is spontaneous and exuberant and pretty cool. He twice thrusts both arms in the air once and adds a more reserved third pump. The birdie puts him 6 under for the round and 12 under for the tournament. Alas, he bogeys No. 17.

So McIlroy and Woods are tied for fifth at 210. Mickelson is third at 205. Justin Rose is second at 204.

These guys are supposed to challenge. Charley Hoffman, ranked 63rd in the world, is not. Maybe his invitation was lost, but he shows up anyway. He’s fourth at 206.

Despite a double bogey on 17, Spieth shoots a 70 and at 200, leads Rose by four strokes.

Looking back at the afternoon, Mickelson tells CBS: “It was just perfect and a fun day to play.”

It really is a tradition like – it’s a very good tradition. Very good.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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