The four men at the top of the leaderboard are each looking for their first major championship and the guy sitting in fifth is hoping to prove he can win one coming from behind.
Trevor Immelman shot a 3-under 69 at Augusta National on Saturday to hold onto the lead for the third straight round. He’s two shots ahead of Brandt Snedeker (70), three up on Steve Flesch (69) and four better than Paul Casey (69).
They’ll all be giving some thought to Tiger Woods, who is the man directly behind them after a bogey-free 68.
”Who is the guy in fifth place?” Snedeker said with a smile. ”Yeah, I’m sure he’s going to be a factor. His name is going to be on the leaderboard somewhere tomorrow.
”It’s going to be there on the back nine. You have to realize that Trevor and all of us in front of him, if we go out there and play a good round of golf – he’s going to have to play an extremely great round of golf to beat us.”
Immelman should be used to waking up with the Masters lead by now, but he still has to prove he can handle the Sunday pressure.
The 28-year-old South African is looking to become the first wire-to-wire winner at the Masters since Ben Crenshaw in 1984.
”All I can ask for myself is to go out there and play as hard as I can and believe in myself,” he said. ”I’ve got to believe in myself and hope for the best.”
Woods will be familiar with the final round surroundings but it’s worth noting that each of his 13 major victories has come in a familiar way – from the front of the pack.
He’d have to come from six shots back of Immelman to win a fifth green jacket but figures to have some hope given the inexperience of the players ahead of him.
”You want to win the Masters – period,” said Woods. ”It doesn’t really matter how you do it as long as you do it.”
The score he posted Saturday was the best he’s had here since the third round in 2005, when a 65 helped him an add a fourth green jacket to his closet.
He’s never overcome a 54-hole deficit of more than five strokes in the final round of a PGA Tour event. Woods could have been even closer than that had he sank a few more of the makeable birdie putts he had on a cool afternoon in Georgia.
”This is the highest score I could have shot today,” said Woods. ”I hit the ball so well and I hit so many good putts that just skirted the hole. But hey, I put myself right back in the tournament.”
The Canadian players couldn’t say that after their rounds.
Mike Weir (75) of Bright’s Grove, Ont., and Calgary’s Stephen Ames (77) each slid down the leaderboard after starting the day in the top 10. They both struggled with their putting on a greens that were slowed by rain during the third round.
Woods started climbing the leaderboard on the back nine but his presence didn’t send the inexperienced challengers spiralling:
– Immelman made consecutive birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 before picking up another stroke at the final hole to finish at 11-under 2005. His only PGA Tour victory to date came at the 2006 Western Open, where he edged Woods.
– Snedeker dropped shots at all three holes around Amen Corner before reeling off three birdies in his last five holes. He’s playing in his first Masters since turning professional but made the cut here as amateur in 2004.
– Flesch outplayed Phil Mickelson in an all-lefty pairing and ended his day by hitting his approach to four feet at No. 18 and making birdie. The 40-year-old from Ohio has won four PGA Tour events, including two last season.
– Casey shot a scorching 4-under 32 on the front nine Saturday to climb into contention. He’s never won in North America but has two previous top-10 finishes at the Masters.
”There’s not any one of those guys who couldn’t win a major as far as I’m concerned,” said defending champion Zach Johnson. ”They are all really, really good.
”It’s just a matter of staying mentally fresh and not letting things get you down. You’re going to get some bad breaks and hit some great shots and make some pars or bogeys. It’s a matter of staying in it.”
The final round could become a battle of attrition.
Weather forecasts were calling for cool temperatures and high winds on Sunday. If that’s how the day shapes off, Woods thinks it will be impossible to play aggressively.
”Not out here,” he said. ”Especially not under the conditions we’re going to have tomorrow. If everything holds up, we’re supposed to get the weather we’re supposed to get tomorrow, you just got to hang in there and hang around.
”You know that anything can happen.”
That’s a hope the four men at the top of the leaderboard are clinging to.
They’ve travelled different paths to get to this moment but every one of them wants to seize it – just as Johnson did last year when he held off a charge from Woods on Sunday.
”This is the ultimate test for us,” said Snedeker. ”We go out there on a tough day and we know it’s set in front of us, and we know we need to play a good round of golf if we want to win, and that’s what’s going to have to happen.
”Everything I’ve grown up trying to do, everything I’ve practised for, everything I’ve done is in preparation for tomorrow. I’m not nervous about it at all. I’m very excited about it, and this is why everybody in this field practices and plays is for a chance like tomorrow.”