Rose maintains two-stroke lead

Updated: April 10, 2004, 3:16 PM ET
Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Justin Rose is the youngest pro in the field. Alex Cejka made a harrowing escape from Communism. K.J. Choi set a Masters record.

And don't forget Charles Howell, who grew up five minutes from Augusta National. Or Phil Mickelson, again chasing that elusive major championship.

All great stories.

But it wasn't their day.

This one belonged to the King.

Arnold Palmer took one final stroll through the azaleas, retraced the steps of Bobby Jones one last time, and called it a Masters career.

There wasn't a dry eye in the place Friday -- and that includes Palmer, who couldn't contain his emotions after his 50th and final tournament at Augusta National.

"I'm sort of a sentimental slob," Palmer said, breaking down in tears. "It's not fun sometimes to know it's over."

Rose is having plenty of fun. The 23-year-old Englishman played a steady hand under an increasing spotlight and maintained the two-stroke lead he had after the first round.

He signed for a 1-under 71 after a superb save from the bunker at No. 18 -- not only keeping his cushion over Cejka and Jose Maria Olazabal, but effectively knocking out 13 other players who would have made the cut if he stumbled.

Anyone within 10 shots of the lead got to play on the weekend.

"I knew there were plenty of guys wishing me not to make up-and-down on 18," Rose said.

The third round began Saturday on a warm, sunny day that figured to toughen up Augusta's slick greens. Among those who didn't have a tee time: Mike Weir, the first defending champion in four years who didn't make it to the weekend.

The Canadian lefty bounced back from an opening-round 79, when he dunked a couple of balls in the water, to shoot 70. But he missed a 5-foot putt to save par on the final hole, leaving him with nothing to do on the weekend except hand out the green jacket to his successor on Sunday.

Tiger Woods managed to hang around, shooting a 69 that left him six strokes behind Rose. Woods was even through five holes Saturday.

"I'm still here," Woods said, a subtle dig at those who suggested he might not extend his record cut streak to 121. "You have to take baby steps. I got back to even, and that's viable."

The biggest move early in the third round was made by Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson, who barely made the cut but surged onto the leaderboard by playing the first 14 holes at 5 under.

Friday belonged to a 74-year-old man who missed a 4-foot putt on the final hole for his second straight 84.

Everyone celebrated, from Jack Nicklaus -- who hinted this may be his final Masters, as well -- to Fred Couples, who hung around the scoring hut to watch Palmer make his final walk up 18.

While Palmer won't be back as a player, he'll definitely return to Augusta. Maybe he'll serve as the honorary starter. Maybe he'll just take a seat on the verandah, watching all the kids trying to fill his shoes.

"I don't think I could ever separate myself from this club and this golf tournament," said Palmer, who won the Masters four times. "I may not be here, but I'll still be a part of what happens here."

For now, the lead belongs to a guy who missed his first 21 cuts after turning pro. Rose finished fourth at the 1999 British Open as a 17-year-old amateur, but took a while to earn his first paycheck.

"Playing under pressure for the right reasons is fun," Rose said. "Playing under pressure for the wrong reasons, that's awful. This is much, much better."

On a wild day of charges and collapses, Rose rarely got into trouble and finished at 6-under 138.

Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, renewed his hopes with an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch on the back nine and a 3-under 69. He and Cejka (70) each bogeyed the 18th hole and were at 140.

Mickelson got into the mix for his first major title, getting a huge break on the par-5 13th when his ball stopped short of going into Rae's Creek. He turned a bogey into a birdie and shot 69, three shots off the lead.

And don't count out Woods. Instead of throwing his clubs, he threw his fist into the air with a 40-foot birdie putt on the 16th for a 69 that put him back in contention.

There's a few guys between Woods and the lead.

Cejka shot his second straight 70 with some brilliant putting, then recounted his flight from Communist Czechoslovakia at age 9, tagging along with his father.

"If I would stay in the Czech Republic, who knows?" Cejka said. "I may end up working in a factory like everybody for $200 a month."

Choi, of South Korea, tied a Masters record with a 30 on the front nine, only to follow that with a 40. Still, he was at 3-under 141 with Mickelson.

Howell, an Augusta native, had a second straight 71 and was in a large group at 142 that included Ernie Els (72), Couples (69) and Davis Love III, who charged into contention with a 67, matching Steve Flesch for the best round of the week.

But the day belonged to Palmer.

The gallery was 10-deep before he even arrived on the 18th tee, and it seemed as though everyone -- players, caddies and dozens of Augusta National members in green jackets -- was there for the end.

"I'm through," he said. "I've had it. I'm done. Cooked. Washed up. Finished. Whatever you want to say."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press