Augusta, April 14: Tiger Woods will play in the final group on Sunday (April 14) at the 2019 Masters, but Francesco Molinari is in pole position to claim the green jacket after he produced another sensational performance under pressure in round three to secure a two-shot lead.
On a day of unprecedented low scoring at Augusta, Woods carded a 67 - his best round at Augusta in eight years - to reach 11 under and share second with Tony Finau, one of three men to shoot 64.
Woods, who has made a remarkable return from spinal fusion surgery after his career appeared to be in jeopardy, is firmly in contention to complete a fairytale comeback by claiming his first major title since 2008. He last won the Masters, for a fourth time, in 2005.
Yet if the 43-year-old is to triumph on Sunday, when the leaders will begin at 9:20am local time (2:20pm BST) due to the threat of thunderstorms, he will need to overcome Molinari, the man who lifted the Claret Jug when the two were paired together in the final round of last year's Open.
Molinari followed up that maiden major success by claiming a maximum haul of points in Europe's Ryder Cup triumph and he once again demonstrated skill and nerve in abundance on Saturday (April 13), going round in 66 for an aggregate score of 13 under.
Remarkably, Molinari has only made one bogey all week, on the 11th hole on Thursday (April 11), and he will surely be confident of holding off Woods once again given his performances in recent months. He saved par superbly from a greenside bunker on the 18th, just when it looked like he might give a shot back.
A run of four successive birdies from the 12th lifted Molinari to the top of the leaderboard, after countless rivals had made birdies and eagles galore.
No previous Masters has ever featured more than one round of 64 or lower, yet there were three on Saturday as Finau, Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay all took full advantage of low winds and receptive greens to card eight-under scores.
Woods got off to a slow start and was one over for the day when he bogeyed the fifth, but he bounced back superbly with birdies at the next three holes.
A number of fortuitous breaks followed as he got away with poor tee shots at the ninth, 11th and 13th, even picking up a shot at the latter.
Yet there was no fortune involved when he gained another shot at the 15th and then fired a dart into the par-three 16th to set up his sixth birdie of the day, one that briefly lifted him into the lead.
70-68-67 (11 under par)
Tiger's 205 three round total ties his total in 2002 and 2005 when he won. pic.twitter.com/XYCgBv8wqB— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) April 13, 2019
Finau's stunning round owed much to a front-nine 30 highlighted by a spectacular eagle on the par-five eighth, where he almost holed his second shot.
Brooks Koepka - the winner of three majors in the last two years - is three off the pace after a 69, with Simpson and Ian Poulter (68) a shot further back.
Koepka and Molinari had shared the overnight lead at seven under with Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott and Jason Day, but the latter trio shot 71, 72 and 73 respectively.
Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, may wonder how he is six off the pace. He played beautifully from tee to green, but struggled badly with the putter, missing a host of presentable chances.
Phil Mickelson's hopes of a fourth green jacket faded significantly as he shot 70 to trail the leaders by seven. Jordan Spieth will begin the final round two shots further back at four under following a 69, while Rory McIlroy will need to wait at least another 12 months to complete the career Grand Slam. He went round in 71 and is 12 adrift.