Scottie Scheffler will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the 86th Masters as he bids to cement his position as world number one with a first major title.
Scheffler was the sixth player in tournament history to hold a five-shot lead at the halfway stage, with four of the previous five going on to claim the green jacket at Augusta National.
The 25-year-old American looked odds on to make it five out of six as he extended his lead to six shots after eight holes and was still five ahead with five holes to play, but a late stumble at least partially opened the door for the chasing pack.
Bogeys on the 14th and 15th saw Scheffler’s lead cut to three strokes and although he responded superbly to birdie the 17th, an errant drive into the trees on the 18th led to a closing bogey.
A third round of 71 gave Scheffler a nine-under-par total of 207, with Australia’s Cameron Smith his nearest challenger following a superb 68.
Smith, who was runner-up in 2020 and is bidding to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win the Masters and Players Championship in the same year, was the only competitor to break 70, with South Korea’s Sungjae Im two shots further back following to 71.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry and 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel are seven shots off the pace following matching rounds of 73, with 2016 winner Danny Willett on level par and Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood part of a five-strong group on one over.
Scheffler has already taken home more than £5.6million this season courtesy of his three wins, the 25-year-old breaking his duck in the WM Phoenix Open, then claiming the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play titles to make it three victories from five starts.
From the lowest-ranked player on last year’s United States Ryder Cup team at 21st in the world, Scheffler suddenly found himself top of the rankings and displacing Spain’s Jon Rahm, the same man he had beaten in the singles at Whistling Straits in the home side’s record 19-9 victory.
Scheffler has played just nine majors in his career and twice at Augusta National, although he finished 19th on his debut in 2020 and 18th last year.
He also had the advantage of being drawn alongside five-time champion Woods for the final round in 2020 and three-time winner Phil Mickelson for the first two rounds last year, while his caddy Ted Scott was on the bag when Bubba Watson won in both 2012 and 2014.
Woods had challenged the odds to make a 22nd consecutive halfway cut in the year’s first major in his first top-level start since suffering severe leg injuries in a car accident 14 months ago.
But the chilly conditions did the 46-year-old’s injury-ravaged body no favors as he four-putted the fifth hole and three-putted six times in a third round of 78, eclipsing his previous highest score of 77 on his debut as an amateur in 1995.
Woods at least maintained his sense of humor when asked what he struggled with, replying with a smile: “I was hitting too many putts.
“It was like practice putting. I hit 1,000 putts out there today. I just had zero feel for the greens and it showed.”
Lowry was within four of the lead after birdies on the second and sixth, but bogeyed the ninth and dropped another shot on the 13th after being furious with caddy Bo Martin for what he felt was an error in judgment.
“Left myself no shot. What af****** s*** lay-up that was,” Lowry could be heard saying. “Well done, well done Bo. Only 30 yards out.. Well done.”
Speaking after completing his round, Lowry said: “It’s hard. I’m playing the best golf I’ve ever played, and how many times do I get a chance to play the best golf I’ve ever played at Augusta in the Masters.
“I was quite bullish about my game going out there today, and felt ready to kind of take on Scottie and I just didn’t do it. Last 10 holes just wasn’t good enough, and it’s unfortunate.”