Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera emerged as the main European Tour challengers for the 65th Masters tournament at the end of an enthralling third round over the Augusta National Golf Club.
The duo both finished on nine under par 207 alongside David Duval, both players three strokes adrift of leader Tiger Woods, but although their totals were the same, the duo harboured mixed feelings about how they arrived in a tie for fifth place, Els carding a battling 68 to move up from 12th overnight, while Cabrera finished disappointingly to have to settle for a 70.
The 31 year old South African, who currently lies fourth on the Volvo Order of Merit, started the day at five under par and advanced that by a shot with an outward half of 35.
The two time US Open champion ignited his challenge with a 20 foot eagle putt from the back of the 15th green and then moved to nine under par for the tournament with a birdie three at the 425 yard 17th.
“I’ve been pretty solid this week but my putter let me down a little bit over the first couple of rounds,” said Els. “But I made a couple of good saves today as well as holing a couple for birdie which helps a lot. My goal when I started out was to get into double figures under par, but nine under is not too bad and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
For Cabrera, during the bulk of the round, it looked like the Argentinian would lead the first major of the season when he moved to 12 under par after 14 holes.
But the 31 year old from Cordoba, who won the Open de Argentina at The Jockey Club in Buenos Aires last weekend, found the water at the 15th on his way to a double bogey seven before compounding his agony at the last with a three putt bogey five.
As has been the case for the entire week in Georgia, the bulk of the attention has fallen on Tiger Woods and the World Number One did not let the huge, expectant, galleries at the Augusta National course down, carding a steady 68 to move into the lead at 12 under par 204.
The 25 year old American now stands tantalisingly close to becoming the first player in history to hold all four major titles at the same time, the player closest to denying him being the World Number Two, Phil Mickelson, whom Woods will partner in the final round.
Mickelson endured a rollercoaster third round before posting a 69 for an 11 under par total of 205 to sit one shot behind Woods, and one shot ahead of two fellow Americans tied in third place, the 1989 Open champion Mark Calcavecchia (68) and the second round pacesetter Chris DiMarco (72).
Elsewhere the bulk of the European Tour challenge, hoping to notch the 12th victory in the past 22 years, left themselves a bit of work to do over the final round.
Two shot adrift of Els was the 1994 and 1999 champion José Maria Olazábal, who had the pleasure of birdieing the last but the Spaniard could do no better than a 71 for a seven under par total of 209.
On six under par 210 was German Bernhard Langer who got himself back into contention with an excellent inward half of 32 which featured birdies at the tenth, 12th 13th and 18th, while two players at five under par 211 for the tournament were Miguel Angel Jimenez and Darren Clarke.
While the Spaniard was consistent but not spectacular during his third round at the Augusta National Course, there was genuine disappointment for Clarke, who stood at nine under par for the tournament after 15 holes before a disasterous finish put hopes of his first Green Jacket on hold.
First mishap for the 32 year old Ulsterman came at the short 16th where he stumbled to a double bogey five before a trip into the bunker at the last and a three putt cost him another double bogey, this time a six, at the 18th.