Jordan Spieth overcame a 17th hole wobble by making a par for the ages at the 18th to take a four-shot lead into the final round of the Masters. Now the hard bit starts.
The 21-year old was heading for massive seven-shot lead when he drove into trees and then three-putted the 17th for a nervy double bogey six.
But under massive pressure, he saved a sensational par at the last, hitting a flop shot from right of the green to nine feet and draining the putt for a 70 and a four shot lead over the fast-finishing Justin Rose on 16 under par — a new 54-hole scoring record.
“It was huge,” Spieth he said of par putt on the 18th. “To see one go in after the disappointment on the 17th was big.”
Determined to go one better than last year when he was beaten to the green jacket by Bubba Watson, he added: “Last year does leave a bad taste in my mouth and I’d like to get some revenge but I still have a long way to go."
With Phil Mickelson just five behind after a 67 and Charley Hoffman on six off the pace thanks to a 71, there will also be eyes on Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods who shot 68s to get within 10 of Spieth and head out together in the third last group.
Rose was two over for the day after five holes but scorched through the field when he birdied the seventh and ninth to turn in level and then came home in 31, holing a bunker shot at the 16th for a fourth successive birdie followed by a slippery 20 footer for another at the last and a 67 that left him on 12 under.
McIlroy and Woods shot are not out of it either though they know they will need help from Spieth, who three-putted three times and showed some signs of frailty for the first time all week.
He was seven clear on 18 under with two to play before his closing mistakes.
But while his 16 under par 54-hole total is still a new record, overcoming the total set by Floyd en route to his lone Masters win in 1976 and matched by Woods in his historic first Masters in 1997, he knows that the likes of US Open champion Rose and five-time major winner Mickelson show now mercy today and he can’t afford to put presssure on his putting.
“What I learned about myself is that I saw a lot of putts go in today,” Spieth said. “That's something in the weekend under pressure that's kind of hurt me a little bit, and recently I've been making a lot of putts.
“The downside of it was that I had to make a lot of putts today with five dropped shots, and I'm not going to be able to have that tomorrow.
"I can't rely on my mid‑range putts. I can’t rely on the putter that much to save me with two major champions right behind.
“They are going to bring their game and I’ve got to make — I've got to have a relatively stress‑free round going; and when I say that, I mean give myself some tap‑in pars and not have to make so many putts."
After following a birdie at the second with a nervy three-putt bogey at the fourth — his first in 24 holes — Spieth could feel his rivals closing in ever so slowly.
But he showed maturity beyond his years to keep them at bay with a stunning back nine performance that gave him a four-shot lead with a round to play — the same margin McIlroy enjoyed before that closing 80 cost him the green jacket in 2011.
After holing a 22 footer for a two at the sixth and and then followed another bogey at the seventh with a steely birdie at the ninth, he kept his nerve until the 17th
Having turned for hole five clear of Mickelson and Hoffman, the pride of Texas birdied the par-three 12th to get to 16 under
McIlroy was the first to put Spieth to the test before slipping to a 68.
Then it was a resurgent Woods, who showed that he’s far from finished as a major force as he went out in 32 but like McIlroy, threw away birdies at the 13th and 15th with bogeys at the 14th and 18th for a 68 that eventually left him 10 shots behind back on six under.
To catch Spieth, the field needs big help and while McIlroy is not so sure they’ll get it, Woods knows what can happen at Augusta.
“It didn't quite happen for him last year, but I think he'll have learned from that experience,” McIlroy said of Spieth’s runner up finish to Bubba Watson last year. “I think all that put together, he'll definitely handle it a lot better than I did.”
Woods birdied the second, third and fourth, missed birdie chances at the sixth and seventh and then birdied the eighth to turn in 32.
But by far the most spectacular birdie of the day came at the the 13th when he chunked a driver no more than 175 yards but still made four.
“Man, I had it going there for a little bit,” Woods said after following a birdie at the 15th with a bogey at the last. “And I made a stupidly good birdie at 13, and then a stupidly bad bogey at 14.
“It all evens out. If I made a couple more putts the score realistically should have been six or seven [under] today. I'm starting to get my feels back, my distance control on my shots.”
Woods knows that Spieth has the tournament in his hands but reminded the Texan of McIlroy’s collapse in 2011 and Greg Norman’s in 1996.
“I'm going to have to put together a really special round of golf tomorrow,” Woods said. “You just never know. You saw what happened in '96. You saw what happened with Rory in '11.
“You never know around this golf course. Anything can happen. A lot depends on what the committee does."