By DAVID BRANDT
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Augusta National was in a forgiving mood during a picturesque, birdie-filled third round of the Masters.
Sunday’s final round might be windy, wet and unpredictable — though not everyone is dreading the weather.
A challenging course could lead to some chaos, which might help players looking for an opportunity to claw their way up the leaderboard a way to pull off a surprise win.
Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele and Matt Kuchar are among those lurking three to five shots back. A green jacket is a longshot, but it’s still within reach.
“I like that there’s weather coming in,” Simpson said soon after jumping into the mix with a 64 on Saturday. “I like that it’s going to be windy and tricky. I think that it’s better for me because I’m assuming I’m going to be a few back still after today going into the final round, so I think a little bit of wind and trickiness helps.”
Because of the threat of severe weather tee times will be pushed up several hours for the final round. Players will be in groups of three instead of the usual pairs and the leaders will tee off at 9:20 a.m. in an effort to be done by mid-afternoon.
Francesco Molinari is the leader with at 13-under 203 and has a two-shot advantage over Tiger Woods and Tony Finau. Koepka is lurking three shots back. Simpson and Ian Poulter are four back. Kuchar, Johnson and Schauffele are among those five behind.
Kuchar made four birdies in a row on the back nine to salvage his slim chances.
“I’m excited to be a guy that tees off one of the last couple of groups and has a chance to be in contention,” Kuchar said. “And golf gets so exciting when you’ve got a chance to contend for a tournament title, a major championship and particularly the Masters Tournament.”
Some players also were pleased about the early start because it doesn’t allow much time to let the pressure build. Koepka shot a 69 on Sunday and hopes to add a fourth major championship and first Masters title to his already impressive resume.
“It will be nice not having to wait all day, not having to wait six hours from when I’m up, so you can just get out there and go play,” Koepka said.
Simpson was one of three players — including Patrick Cantlay and Finau — who cruised through Augusta National with a 64 on Saturday. It’s the first time in Masters history that three players scored that low during a round.
There was essentially no wind and the greens were soft. The birdies and eagles were dropping, the crowds were roaring and a lot of players were smiling.
Simpson said he’s happy he took advantage of the conditions while they lasted. Nobody expects Sunday to be as forgiving.
And all the chaos — the weather, unusual pairings and early start times — might lead to an unexpected winner.