Aussie contenders slip down the Masters leader board as extreme weather suspends play

The looming last round of the Masters will be more than a clash of golf’s top players – it will also be a duel between the PGA and the rebel LIV.

LIV breakaway Brooks Koepka is three strokes ahead of PGA stalwart Jon Rahm, with the contenders seemingly destined to duel for the crown at Augusta National.

The news wasn’t so good for Australian contenders, who faded in the appalling conditions as driving rain and high winds forced play to be suspended.

Jason Day is the leading Australian, nine shots off the pace in a five-way tie for eighth at four under with three-time champion Phil Mickelson, Cameron Young, Justin Rose, Russell Henley and Joaquin Neimann.

British Open champion Cameron Smith (one under) and 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott (even par) both have five holes of their third rounds remaining.

The third round was suspended for the day with four-time major champion Koepka, looking to strike a massive blow for golf’s breakaway group, holding a four-shot lead over world No.3 Rahm.

Koepka moved to 13 under par through six holes, one under on the round, before officials stopped play at water-logged Augusta.

Thirty-nine players, including Rahm, had already returned early on Saturday morning to finish off their second rounds.

Impossible conditions

Organisers then applied a split-tee format with three-man groups for round three in desperate hope of catching up.

But play eventually had to be abandoned at 3.17pm local time when greens became saturated, leaving players facing a gruelling Sunday schedule at the year’s first major championship.

Koepka will return in the box seat after picking up a birdie on the par-5 second hole, then making four successive pars as his chasers struggled to keep up in the relentless rain.

Rahm briefly cut the deficit to two strokes until bogeys on three and four doubled Koepka’s advantage.

Fresh off his victory at last week’s LIV Golf International Orlando in Florida, Koepka has gone 29 holes without making a bogey and is looking almost impossible to chase down.

But if anyone is capable, it is Rahm, who has nine holes remaining in his third round.

With five victories in his past dozen worldwide starts, the Spaniard is the heavyweight the PGA Tour needs to fend off Koepka’s bid to be the first player from LIV to win a major championship.

Former world No.1 Koepka hinted after the second round that he may not have defected to the Greg Norman-led, Saudi-backed circuit had he known he was going to reprise the sublime form of 2017 to 2019 when the American captured four majors.

Aside from Rahm, Koepka’s next closest pursuer is American amateur Sam Bennett at five under.

Like Koepka and Rahm, Bennett also has 12 holes of his second round remaining before Sunday’s final round which is scheduled to start at 12.30pm.

Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland are all five under and eight shots adrift of Koepka.

World No.1 and defending champion Scottie Scheffler is one stroke further back in a share of 14th with Kiwi Ryan Fox.

Tiger’s latest record

British Open champion Cameron Smith (one under) and 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott (even par) both have five holes of their third rounds remaining.

Tiger Woods made a record-equalling 23rd consecutive Masters cut on the number at three over before collapsing in the third round.

Playing possibly his last-ever Masters, 47-year-old Woods battled valiantly, walking the hilly course on his rebuilt leg, to post a steely second-round 73.

But successive double bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes of his third round sent the five-times champion crashing to nine over and last of the 54 players left in the field.

Still, Woods joined Gary Player (1959-82) and Fred Couples (1983-2007) in the record books with the most consecutive Masters cuts made.

At 63, the 1992 champion Couples also penned another piece of Masters history by becoming the oldest man to make the cut at Augusta.

-with AAP

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