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Doug Ferguson / AP Golf Writer, Published April 11 2010

Stars start to soar at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Lee Westwood kept his cool even as Augusta National thundered with too many cheers to count.

Phil Mickelson made consecutive eagles with three shots. Fred Couples chipped in for eagle ahead of him. Ricky Barnes chipped in for a birdie behind him. Tiger Woods got into the act with three straight birdies to keep his name high on a star-studded leaderboard.

Saturday at the Masters sounded an awful lot like Sunday.

“You couldn’t figure out who was doing what because there were roars happening simultaneously throughout the course,” Mickelson said. “I thought that it was really a fun day to see the leaderboard change.”

Westwood made sure there was no change at the top.

With his best chance ever to win that elusive major, Westwood made only one bogey and finished with a tough par for a 4-under 68 to take a one-shot lead over Mickelson into the final round of a Masters that keeps getting better.

“I think I’m ready,” Westwood said.

By the look of the names behind him, he better be.

Westwood, No. 4 in the world and among the best without a major, was at 12-under 204. He will be in the final group with Mickelson, No. 3 in the world and the sentimental favorite at Augusta given his turbulent year at home with his wife and mother battling breast cancer.

Right in front of them will be Woods, No. 1 in the world and playing as though five months of a humiliating sex scandal never happened. He finished with a 3-foot birdie on the last hole for a 2-under 70, putting him at 8-under 208 along with K.J. Choi, who also had a 70.

“I think that’s what everybody wants to see,” Westwood said. “Everybody has missed Tiger on the golf course the last five or six months, and he’s up there. Phil is up there. You’ve got 4, 3 and 1 in the world. It’s a good leaderboard, I think.”

The Masters hasn’t seen a leaderboard this strong for the final round since Woods and Mickelson – Nos. 1 and 2 in the world – were in the final group in 2001.

Just as exciting as the names were the endless cheers from all corners of the course, for just about everyone but Westwood. Over the final hour, his only birdie was a two-putt from 25 feet on the 15th. Ho-hum.

“The only thing I can control is what I do, where I hit it,” Westwood said. “The guys up on the leaderboard there are great players. They are going to do something. You have to expect the unexpected at times.”

It got so crazy at one point that in the time it took Westwood to play the 11th hole with a hard-earned par, Mickelson made up four shots on him with an 8-foot eagle putt on the 13th and holing out a wedge on the 14th.

Barnes knocked in his birdie from behind the 13th green, and even more impressive was his 60-foot birdie putt across the 14th green.

The thrills never stopped.

“It was probably one of those great days in golf at a major championship,” Westwood said. “I obviously wasn’t privy to the things you have seen, but I was well aware somebody was making a charge, and I figured it was Phil. That’s what major championships are about. They’re tough ones to win because great players do great things.”