Scottie Scheffler will carry a three-shot lead into the final day of the 86th Masters at Augusta, but will be disappointed he is not further ahead with Cameron Smith firmly in the picture as the joust for the Green Jacket looks set for a two-man showdown on Sunday.
A 71 from the world No. 1 Scheffler saw him move to nine under having led by five strokes on minus eight at the outset of Saturday as Players champion Smith signed for a 69 to finish on six under from a third round defined by wind, cooler conditions and firm greens.
Scheffler had threatened to run away with the season's first major after rolling in four birdies in the first eight holes to catapult himself to 11 under, but dropped shots at 12, 14 and 15 appeared to breathe fresh life into Smith's hopes.
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The Australian bogeyed the 16th hole, but managed to complete pars on the 17th and 18th holes to stay within three of the leader.
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Scheffler regained a four-shot advantage by slipping home a birdie on the 17th hole, but a wayward drive on the last forced him to take a penalty drop.
A double bogey looked likely, but he found the back of the green with his third shot before scrambling to drop just one by converting his bogey putt.
History suggests Scheffler will complete the victory, but the weather at Augusta could yet be a telling factor if the wind intervenes. The Dallas player is out with world No. 6 Smith in the final group at 2:40pm (7:40pm BST) on Sunday.
It will be the first time since the 2015 US PGA Championship, when Jason Day held off Jordan Spieth, that two men inside the world's top 10 tee off in the final group.
It could prove to be an intriguing day with Augusta's Duel in the Sun invoking memories of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson's iconic battle for the Open around Turnberry in 1977.
“Should be a great fight tomorrow,” said Scheffler. “Obviously Cam is a tremendous player, and he's got a fantastic short game, and he's coming off a huge win. Both of us are in good form, so I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge of playing with him tomorrow.
“Little bit of different conditions on the golf course. I'm sure they will keep the greens nice and firm, but the wind will be a little lighter.
"I'm not sure how much lighter it will be, but I think we are both looking forward to the test and the challenge. Playing in the final group is always so much fun, so I'm looking forward to it.”
The last player to enjoy a lead of five or more shots at a men's major after 36 holes and fail to convert was Bobby Clampett in the 1982 Open at Royal Troon, won by Tom Watson, when he led by five only to finish in a tie for 10th spot.
"If you play this game for a living, you get used to people watching you," said Scheffler. "I had a lot of fun out there. Being in the lead is fun. When I'm in the lead, I'm trying to stay in the lead and not overthink things.
"Just go out there and play golf.
"When we got started with the round today, I mean, it was so windy and never really let up. So I hit a lot of really nice iron shots. I hit the ball really solid today. And for the most part I kept myself in good positions, outside of, I would say, 14 and 15.
"And yeah, good accomplishment. I'm not really going to think too much about it tonight, but, you know, I'm just really looking forward to tomorrow."
Sungjae Im will hope to muscle in on the conversation on Sunday after piecing together a one under 71 to progress to minus four. Sungjae shared second place with Smith and Abraham Ancer when Dustin Johnson completed his Green Jacket triumph in 2020.
2019 Open champion Shane Lowry and 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel both dropped back to two under after third-round 73s and look out of the picture.
But 15-time major winner Tiger Woods could not hoist himself back into the reckoning. The five-time champion slipped to a six-over par 78 in falling to plus seven and out of contention in what has already been a remarkable effort 14 months after surviving a life-threatening car crash.
2022 Masters leaderboard
- -9 S Scheffler (US)
- -6 C Smith (Aus)
- -4 I Sung-Jae (Kor)
- -2 C Schwartzel (SA), S Lowry (Ire)
- -1 J Thomas (US), C Conners (Can)
THE 86TH MASTERS TEE TIMES (EASTERN TIME – BST +5HRS)
- 10:10 AM -- Cameron Davis, Adam Scott
- 10:20 AM -- Tyrrell Hatton, Billy Horschel
- 10:30 AM -- Patrick Cantlay, Mackenzie Hughes
- 10:40 AM -- Max Homa, Bubba Watson
- 10:50 AM -- Jon Rahm, Tiger Woods
- 11 AM -- Russell Henley, Daniel Berger
- 11:10 AM -- Robert MacIntyre, Harold Varner III
- 11:20 AM -- Tom Hoge, Sepp Straka
- 11:30 AM -- Kevin Na, Seamus Power
- 11:50 AM -- Joaquin Niemann, Christiaan Bezuidenhout
- 12 noon -- Kevin Kisner, Matthew Fitzpatrick
- 12:10 PM -- Tony Finau, Sergio Garcia
- 12:20 PM -- Lucas Glover, Patrick Reed
- 12:30 PM -- J.J. Spaun, Min Woo Lee
- 12:40 PM -- Harry Higgs, Lee Westwood
- 12:50 PM -- Si Woo Kim, Hudson Swafford
- 1 PM -- Marc Leishman, Talor Gooch
- 1:10 PM -- Hideki Matsuyama,Viktor Hovland
- 1:30 PM -- Webb Simpson, Will Zalatoris
- 1:40 PM -- Dustin Johnson, Cameron Champ
- 1:50 PM -- Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa
- 2 PM -- Tommy Fleetwood, Jason Kokrak
- 2:10 PM -- Corey Conners, Danny Willett
- 2:20 PM -- Charl Schwartzel, Justin Thomas
- 2:30 PM -- Sungjae Im, Shane Lowry
- 2:40 PM -- Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Smith
For the latest news and sharpest analysis on golf, visit GolfDigest.com
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