Pain and suffering at Augusta National

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If you enjoy human suffering, you'll absolutely love what's happening here at the 71st Masters.

First of all, it's colder than the produce bin in your fridge. It's also gusty enough to blow most of the pretenders off the leaderboard. And before it's finished, Augusta National officials are going to have to hire a depression therapist to work the players' locker room.

Here are some comments heard on the course Saturday:

Phil Mickelson: "Oh, no!"
Tiger Woods: "Ah, dammit!"
Jerry Kelly: "Arrgggh!"

Isn't it wonderful? Nothing brings me more pleasure than watching the collective misery of men wearing Rolexes and rain gear. The more slumped shoulders the better. Expletives are encouraged.

"The only other time I remember the weather like this is when I'm here playing on Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Augusta native Charles Howell III. "You know the tapes we have all seen of guys shooting 30 on the back nine? I don't think you're going to see that tape this year."

Perfect. Just how I like it. Let them beg for pars.

Exactly one player in the field broke par Saturday. Retief Goosen, who barely made the cut and was tied for last when the third round started, shot 70 and moved from a tie for 45th to a tie for eighth. The average score was a delicious 77.35. No wonder you could hear the screams all the way to Atlanta.

If Woods hadn't suffered yet another mini-meltdown on the last two holes, he'd be leading this thing. He bogeyed Nos. 17 and 18, just like he did on Thursday, and finished at even-par 72 and 3-over for the tournament. Woods was so steamed that he almost left bruise marks on the bottom of his golf bag after depositing his putter.

Poor CBS announcer Bill Macatee, who had to interview an angry Woods minutes after the round, took one for the media team. He asked if Woods had let a good round get away from him. And then he ducked.

"Yeah," said Woods, seething, "and then some."

Woods would later call it "one of the hardest rounds I think we've ever played here."

And yet Woods backed into the final pairing with leader Stuart Appleby (2-over) because Augusta National knocked so many contenders senseless. There were blood stains on almost everybody's scorecard.

Brett Wetterich began the day as the co-leader with Tim Clark and ended it with an 83. Clark shot an 80. Together they were a combined 19-over and didn't have a birdie. Lovely.

Former Masters champion Vijay Singh, who used an umbrella to shield himself from the 20-plus mph gusts, shot 79. Mike Weir, another former Masters champ, shot 80. U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy, who was in perfect position to challenge late in the day, put two balls in the water on the par-5 No. 15, made a nine, and finished with an 81.

"The course is just ready to slap you in the head if you do anything wrong," said Appleby.

Gawd, it's beautiful to watch. After being 65'd to death at the FBR Opens of the world, it's nice to see even-par mean something. It's nice to hear bitching on a day when the 54-hole lead was the highest in Masters history.

"It was a tough day with the wind gusts," said Woods, who wore rain pants during parts of the round. "You hit quality shots and just get absolutely hosed. That's just the way it is here."

Woods shouldn't say a peep. If not for those conditions and cruel Augusta National, he wouldn't be in Sunday's final group. As he spoke with reporters just off the 18th green, he was four strokes off the lead. A few hours later, after Appleby, Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Vaughn Taylor, et al., all staggered in, Woods was one stroke from being atop the board.

Woods is now in position to win a fifth Masters title. He has just about everything on his side, including the fact that each Masters winner during the last 16 years has come from the last twosome of the day.

Appleby, a worker-bee player (and I mean that in a good way), has never finished higher than 19th here and has missed the cut five out of 11 times. But he does have eight PGA Tour victories and tied for second in the 2002 British Open. What he doesn't have is any sort of intimidation factor.

"Well, [Woods] won't even know I'm there," said Appleby. "I'm sure I'll know he's there."

Someone asked Appleby how he's done against Woods in, say, practice rounds, where a few hondos were wagered?

"What would you like me to say, that I cleaned him up all the time?" said Appleby. "That I'm great on the practice range? I can beat him? I can hit it past him? No. No. And no."

Woods, despite his lapses this week, has done what he's needed to do to stay close. But Augusta National, the elements, and the pressure of green jackets have done most of the dirty work. Here's hoping the pain continues.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.