ESPN's Justin Ray illustrates how the 54-hole lead held by Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera at seven-under far from guarantees that either final pairing competitor will emerge victorious:
Over last 18 majors (since last Woods win), 10 players were down 2+ shots after 54 holes and won. Only 5 54-hole leaders have won.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) April 13, 2013
Of the aforementioned trio that has risen from obscurity, two are past Masters champions, and Tim Clark, who made the biggest move of the day with a five-under 67, finished runner-up at Augusta National back in 2006.
In that context, it's worth examining which players are truly contenders, as opposed to those likeliest to fade down the stretch. Below is a power ranking of the top five players that have the best chances of slipping on the green jacket on Sunday.
5. Jason Day
Two three-putts ended Day's round in what was otherwise a stellar, consistent performance that was defined by 12 consecutive pars to start.
What will Jason Day's final-round score be after Saturday's discouraging finish?
The talented 25-year-old has only one PGA Tour victory to his credit, and should have won more than that by now. However, he seems to have bounced back from a down year in 2012 to put himself in contention at the year's maiden major.
Day finished tied for second two years ago at this event, showing that he can handle the heat of contention on one of golf's premier stages. It took a spectacular finish from Charl Schwartzel to prevent him from winning his first major title.
Australia has never had a Masters champion, which should only add to the expectations. However, Day doesn't have the pressure of playing in the final group, and should he sink a few birdies early, Day could definitely make a strong run.
The big concern is Day's inability to close the deal more than once on Tour, which may result in a slight stumble toward the end, similar to what he experienced on Saturday.
4. Angel Cabrera
It makes almost no sense that Cabrera is contending again. The 2009 Masters winner may be a two-time major champion, but he's never been a serious threat at any other of his 51 starts in such tournaments.
Having said that, it would be something special if he could translate this third golden opportunity into a triumph.
Jason Sobel of Golf Channel provided some humorous commentary in that vein:
Angel Cabrera in contention once again at a major. And on the other 48 weeks, he rests.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 13, 2013
Cabrera relies on distance and precise ball-striking to thrive, and Augusta National's mostly wide fairways give him liberty to swing freely. He is averaging 29 putts over the first three rounds, and needs to fare a little better than that being paired with a flatstick maestro such as Snedeker.
The Argentine is relentlessly aggressive, and should be a lot of fun to watch in the final group. It's just hard to choose him as one of the true titans outside of his previous win at Augusta.
Thus far in 2013, Cabrera hasn't finished better than a tie for 16th in last week's Shell Houston Open, and he can't be completely counted on to pull out major No. 3 because of it.
3. Adam Scott
This is the Aussie that gives his country the best shot at winning its maiden Masters. Scott is only one shot behind the lead at minus-six, and birdied three of his final six holes on Saturday to enter the final 18 holes with some nice momentum.
Also helping the cause is the fact that Stevie Williams is his caddy—the same man who carried the sticks for three of Tiger Woods' four Masters victories.
Having that sort of experience from his most direct on-course adviser should propel Scott to the front of the pack.
World-renowned swing coach Butch Harmon seems convinced this is Scott's time:
Ok for all of you that want me to make a pick, here it is, for me Adam Scott is the winner at -9— Butch Harmon (@43BH) April 14, 2013
Scott is long overdue to win a major title, and has been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world in his career. A collapse at the British Open last season wasted his best chance at such glory, and he joined his compatriot Day in second place at the 2011 Masters.
With his game in top shape and the positivity of that year's final-round 67 to draw on, look for Scott to be prominently in the thick of things.
2. Tiger Woods
That darned two-stroke penalty that Woods was assessed for an illegal drop (h/t New York Post) got his moving day off to a rocky start before it even began.
As he's been known to do, though, Woods overcame the adversity by stuffing his opening approach shot to three feet for an easy birdie. A few missed putts and several spectacular shots balanced out the round the rest of the way, as he posted a two-under 70 to get to three-under overall.
A lot of talented players may stand between Woods and the co-leaders, but then again, he tends to make things uniquely riveting when he wears that Sunday Red.
ESPN Stats & Info provides specific context with regard to how far back Woods currently is:
Tiger Woods: enters Sunday with 4 wins in PGA Tour events in which he trailed by 4 shots entering final round (last: 2012 Memorial)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 14, 2013
Although Woods has never come from behind to win any major, it seems this would be a better time than ever. Imagine how big of a storyline it would be for him to overcome the penalty setback, get a hot putter and rally to his first major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
The stage for a new level of greatness for the resurgent top-ranked golfer on the planet. It will be fun to see if Woods can deliver the goods.
1. Brandt Snedeker
If there is anyone who can break the spell of mostly losing third-round major leaders in recent years, it's Snedeker.
The reigning FedEx Cup champion has proven that he is one of the truly elite players in the world, and is arguably the very best putter on Tour. A strong start to the year was stymied by a rib injury. Since Snedeker has made the trip down Magnolia Lane, though, everything has changed.
When he was last in this situation, Snedeker blew up with a final-round 77—even after posting an eagle on the par-five second hole.
This is a different, far more confident Snedeker this time around, as this quote from Golf Channel's Jay Coffin indicates:
Brandt Snedeker: "I’ve spent 32 years of my life preparing for tomorrow. I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t win. Period."— Jay Coffin (@JayCoffinGC) April 13, 2013
All that is missing from Snedeker's resume is a major, and the only things that have prevented him from winning one are his long game and various health ailments.
Now, Snedeker is healthy and his swing is in sync. It's hard not to root for him to redeem his aforementioned disappointment from 2008, but there is plenty of substance behind the assertion that he will make the walk to Butler Cabin as the champion this evening.