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Watson, Van Pelt rally on Saturday

Sunday, April 10, 2011

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- With a closing bogey by Tiger Woods for a 74, a modest 71 by defending champion Phil Mickelson and an uphill climb just to shoot even-par 72 by Fred Couples, the U.S. standard-bearers entering the final round of the Masters Tournament are Bo and Bubba.

Well, this is Georgia.

Bubba Watson and Bo Van Pelt made early and fast sprints up the leaderboard Saturday at Augusta National Golf Club, Watson matching the day's low round with a 67, while Van Pelt had a 68 with a bogey on the final hole.

Van Pelt is alone in eighth place at 6-under-par 210, six shots behind leader Rory McIlroy. Watson is tied for ninth with Woods (74), Couples (72), Ross Fisher (71) of England and Geoff Ogilvy (73) at 5-under.

While Woods and Couples are tied with Watson, the momentum of how those players got to that position was very different. Woods bogeyed his final hole to end a long, arduous day and Couples had to work hard to overcome a double-bogey 7 at the par-5 eighth hole.

Van Pelt moved up 12 spots from a tie for 20th and Watson jumped 26 spots from a tie for 37th. Watson needed four birdies on the second nine Friday to get inside the 1-over cut line.

It's the career low round at Augusta for both Watson and Van Pelt. Watson had never shot in the 60s in two prior appearances and Van Pelt missed the cut in his only other Masters start, in 2005.

Watson, for one, was already looking forward to the final round.

"[Sunday] is a brand new day," he said. "I might wake up sick, I might wake up perfect and play great, might play bad. I've got one more day to go and hopefully that will be pretty good."

Van Pelt seemed to quickly shake off his closing bogey and enjoy his moment on a warm, sunny Augusta day.

"I'm going to try to shoot my lowest score I can and at the end of the day, I'll be happy because I know it's all I could do," he said.

Both players made their biggest moves on the second nine at Augusta. Van Pelt parred his first seven holes, birdied the par-5 eighth, then birdied four of six, beginning with a 6-foot putt to birdie the always-difficult par-4 11th. Watson birdied Nos. 12, 13, 15 and the closing hole, and also birdied all four par-5s.

For the week, the long-hitting Watson is 9-under on the par-5s.

While Watson has been billed as one of the up-and-coming American stars since he won his first Tour event last summer and his second in January, Van Pelt has been a poster boy for the working-class PGA Tour player. The 36-year-old Indiana native, who went through the college golf factory of Oklahoma State, has won once on the Tour, the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship.

But Van Pelt has finished between 30th and 79th on the FedEx Cup points list since the system was established in 2007 and has maintained his Tour exemption every year since 2004. A classic grinder, Van Pelt has averaged almost 30 starts in each of his full Tour seasons.

But Van Pelt has been showing flashes of good play in difficult tournaments. He tied for fourth last year at The Players Championship, finished solo fifth the week before that at the Quail Hollow Championship, tied for third at Hilton Head, tied for third at the Memorial and made the cut at the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA.

That added up to making the Tour Championship for the first time, locking up the final FedEx Cup points spot at No. 30.

Reach Garry Smits at (904) 359-4362.

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