Angel Cabrera opened a commanding three shot lead on Augusta National’s front nine as the Argentine edged towards a second Green Jacket.
The 2009 winner birdied the second and seventh to be nine under in the 77th Masters Tournament, three clear of Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day and Adam Scott.
Dane Thorbjørn Olesen was leading the European challenge at four under with four to play as Lee Westwood and Bernhard Langer failed to build on impressive starts.
Langer birdied the first three but dropped five shots in six holes from the sixth to end his hopes of becoming the oldest Major winner in history on the 20th anniversary of his second title here.
Westwood got to two under for the day through eight despite three missed birdie putts from inside six feet, but bogeyed the ninth and at three under with five to play needed something special to happen.
Cabrera, whose only two wins on the US PGA Tour were in Major Championships, gave everyone in the chasing pack hope with his first bogey of the day on the tenth after driving into the trees.
But Snedeker, who was even deeper into the woods, failed to take advantage of a superb escape to the front edge of the green, chipping to three feet but seeing his par putt lip out.
That seemed to rattle the 32 year old and he promptly three-putted the 11th - leaving his birdie putt woefully short - to drop back to five under and three behind his playing partner.
Woods was now only four adrift after a two-putt birdie on the par-five 13th, while Olesen looked like setting the clubhouse target after reaching the 18th tee at five under for his round and the tournament.
Olesen bogeyed the 18th but still set the clubhouse target on four under, one ahead of first round joint leader Sergio Garcia, who also dropped a shot on the last in his 70.
That looked like not being enough to win, but Cabrera followed Snedeker into the water in front of the 13th green and ran up a bogey six, leaving Day in the lead courtesy of birdies on the 13th and 14th.
Fellow Australian Adam Scott moved alongside Cabrera on seven under thanks to a stroke of luck on the 13th, his second shot spinning back towards the water but stopping on the downslope - reminiscent of what happened to Fred Couples on the 12th on his way to victory in 1992.
Woods two-putted the 15th for birdie and at five under was only three off the lead with three holes remaining.