Jordan Spieth is ready to “play like Arnold Palmer” in his bid to become Masters champion for the second time in three years at Augusta National.
The 22-year-old trails two Europeans, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, by two shots after a fascinating third round in much easier conditions than the opening two days.
Rickie Fowler also sits between Spieth and the two leaders, but the Texan will have them looking over their shoulder in the last-day battle for this year’s green jacket.
Spieth’s record in three appearances here is second-first-second and was on course to make that second-first-first before squandering a five-shot lead on the back nine 12 months ago.
He ran up a quadruple-bogey - a 7 at the 12th - on that occasion and had another one in his opening round on Thursday, this one a 9 at the 15th.
No player has ever won here after such a disaster but the dogged Spieth has given himself a chance to rip up the record books after clawing his way back into contention.
“I was able to shoot my goal today,” he said after carding a four-under-par 68 to sit joint-fourth alongside two compatriots, Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman.
“I’m now in a great position going into tomorrow. I’m in position to make some noise early.
“There are some studs at the top of the leaderboard, so it won’t be easy. I’ll have to play like Arnold Palmer.”
This is the first Masters since Palmer passed away at the age of 87 last September, with a tasteful tribute to the four-time winner getting the event underway on Thursday.
Garcia is trying to win his first major at the 74th attempt. His bid will be on the day that Seve Ballesteros, the first European to win here in 1980 before adding a second success three years later, would have celebrated his 60th birthday.
“It would be good to speak to him,” admitted Garcia in reply to being asked what advice his fellow Spaniard would have offered about the final round.
“It would probably be something like ‘believe in yourself, enjoy it as much as you can and do your best’.”
The 37-year-old ground out a 70 for his six-under total, handing himself a huge confidence boost by holing a testing par putt at the last.
This effort was an 11-shot improvement on the corresponding round last year, having also crashed to a 79 in 2006.
Rose tied for second behind Spieth in 2015, having also come close in the season’s opening major when finishing fifth in 2007.
He knows what it takes to win a major, having claimed the US Open title in 2013, and, of course, is the current Olympic champion.
His 67 - the best-of-the-day - included seven birdies, including two to finish as he stormed home in 31.
“It was a joy to play golf today - that’s how you want to play Augusta National,” said the 2014 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open champion.
Asked about how he intended to draw on some of his past experiences, Rose added: “It’s easy to dream about what might be, but I’m only going to think as far forward as the first tee tomorrow.”
Fowler, another player to have won the Scottish Open in recent years - at Gullane two years ago - is also chasing his first major, albeit a lot quicker than Garcia.
The 28-year-old was on the first tee on Thursday to attend the ceremony for Palmer and admitted it would be “special” if he could end the week as champion.
“I will be giving it all tomorrow for him,” said Fowler, who showed his fighting qualities in a 71 to sit on four-under.
“I made some good par saves to keep my round going,” he admitted.
Hoffman, who’d been out in front since opening with a 65, was still at the top of the leaderboard after getting to seven-under with five holes to play.
He then followed a drop shot at the 14th by hitting his tee shot into the water at the short 16th and running up a double-bogey.
The 40-year-old is still right in the mix, though, and so, too, is Moore, who won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour last season before clinching victory for the US in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
Others still in the hunt include former winners Adam Scott and Charl Scwartzel, as well as Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.
Scott, the winner in 2013, was flawless in his third round, a 69 to sit seventh on his own on three-under “I’m plenty close,” insisted the Australian. “I’m going out there with no pressure tomorrow.”
Schwartzel, the 2011 winner, is chasing a second green jacket after moving to a couple under, helped by an eagle-3 at the 15th that took him to four-under there this week.
“I’m definitely in with a shout,” said the South African after signing for a 68 to sit on two-under.
“If I keep swinging like I am, you never know, you get on a run and you can make a scare up on the board.”
Westwood, who tied for second with Spieth 12 months ago, also carded a 68 to haul himself back into contention, having squandered some good Thursday work with a second-round 77.
The Edinburgh-based player kick-started his move up the leaderboard with three birdies in a row from the fourth - an impressive 2-3-2 run - before making three more gains coming home at the 13th, 15th and 17th.
“I did what I needed to do today,” said Westwood, who was also a bridesmaid here in 2010. “I needed to get into the red.
“Obviously I would like to be deep in the red, but one under is pretty good. I’ve got half a chance tomorrow if I can get a roll going on the front nine.
“I hit the ball pretty well, the short game was pretty good and I holed a few putts, so it was nice.”
Bidding to win at the first attempt - a feat last achieved by Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 - Pieters is just five shots off the lead. He’d have even closer but for a bogey at the last.
Rory McIlroy is also still in the hunt for a career Grand Slam, though he has six shots to make up after being unable to pick up any birdies over the closing stretch, leaving him having to settle for a 71.
“I had some chances on the back nine I could have converted,” said the world No 2, who has been unable to break 70 so far this week.
“I think I probably could have shot a 67 or 68 but there were just a few too many wasted opportunities.
“My best score round here is 65 and I’m going to need something like that, if not lower, to have a chance tomorrow. I just need to go out and play a good round of golf tomorrow.
“I feel like I play as aggressive as anyone round here, but you can’t just start to gung-ho it around here and go for shots that aren’t on.
“You still have to play smart when you have to.
“I’ll just try to take my chances, birdie the par-5s, birdie some of the other holes and try not to make too many mistakes.”
Also on level-par are Paul Casey, who will be looking to repeat a 67 in the last round 12 months that lifted him to fourth, and Dane Soren Kjeldsen, who also made the top 10 on that occasion.
Phil Mickelson’s hopes of emulating Jack Nicklaus by winning here at the age of 46 now look slim after a 74 dropped him into a tie for 21st on two-over.
The three-time winner started with two birdies before dropping four shots before the turn in the company of Spieth.
The 2013 Open champion produced an incredible recovery from in the trees to find the green at the 14th before picking up a birdie at the next.
He looks too far back, though, and appears to have too many players between him and the lead to match that feat by Nicklaus in 1986.
Another potential fairytale also faded as Fred Couples’ bid to mark the 25th anniversary of his 1992 triumph was derailed by a double-bogey 7 at the 15th.
Also bidding to take Zoeller’s record away, Spaniard Jon Rahm and American William McGirt dropped back after having to settle for rounds of 73 and 74 respectively.