"I Hope Tiger Wins So They Can Kiss His Butt"

That was the sentiment expressed by one fan at Augusta National yesterday, as Tiger Woods battled through a tough third round.

It was a visceral reaction, on a moving day that featured a brilliant display of Mickelson magic and nearly relegated Mr. Woods to final round irrelevance.

The Woods-Mickelson dream rivalry of the past decade has not always lived up to expectations but it tends to shine through brilliantly at opportune times and yesterday was certainly one of those. As a result, a thrilling final round is expected today.

There are a number of other players in contention and they have several fascinating stories among them. For example Lee Westwood, seeking the breakthrough major that's eluded him for so long, is leading by one as the final round begins, and Fred Couples has a chance at becoming the oldest player to ever win the Masters (not to mention the only one to win without wearing socks).

There's been some brilliant golf on display and it's succeeded in mitigating the anticipated "circus atmosphere" to an extent some thought wouldn't be possible. Expect that to continue today as "great players continue to do great things."

However, the message that should be taken away regardless of who wins... is that the majority of golf fans... avid and casual... don't want to see Tiger Woods punished. Some, like the fan I quoted in the title of this post, actually see Tiger as a victim. They would see a Woods victory as a vindication. Most however, are simply pulling for their favorite player... be it Tiger or Phil or one of the other extraordinarily talented contenders... and looking forward to watching the best players in the world play spectacular golf on a beautiful Masters Sunday.

Photo:Jamie Squire/Getty North America