Tiger Woods put the heat on the leaders with a superb four-under-par 68 in The Masters at Augusta – but, helped by a huge stroke of luck, South African Trevor Immelman is two ahead with a round to play.
The 28-year-old from Cape Town, chasing his first major title just four months after a cancer scare, led by three when his pitch to the long 15th spun and looked for all the world as if it would go into the water.
It had been raining earlier, however, and there was enough softness in the ground to stop the ball halfway down the slope.
Immelman saved par and with a closing two-foot birdie returned a three-under-par 69 to finish the day on 11 under par.
American Brandt Snedeker remains his closest challenger after he also birdied the 465-yard last, while left-handed compatriot Steve Flesch is one further behind, Britain’s Paul Casey four back after an action-packed 69 – and then Woods on five under.
Casey, sixth on his debut in the event in 2004, birdied the second, fifth, seventh and ninth to grab a share of top spot.
He then three-putted the treacherous 11th, pitched to six feet for birdie two holes later, took six on the long 15th after going over the green, had his sixth birdie of the day on the next, but then was long again at the 17th and failed to get up and down.
“I’m not going to dwell on the bogeys,” he said. “It was another wonderful 69. Sure I made a couple of mistakes, but if you can get round this course without making a bogey that’s incredible.
“Looking at the way Trevor is playing I think I need to go even lower tomorrow, but I have a way of plodding my way round the course which I like.
“With it likely to be windy I’m going to have to be patient and I can keep it below the pins I should have look at birdies.”
Immelman had a tumour on his diaphragm removed just before Christmas and had a scary wait before being told it was benign.
He has not had anything better than 40th place in seven stroke play events since his return, but what a week to turn it on.
His only bogey was on the short fourth and he picked up shots at the eighth, 13th and 14th before producing his grandstand finish.
Woods started the day in joint 13th place, but did not drop a stroke and swung so well he might even have threatened the course record of 63.
“A 68 was about as high as I could go – I hit the ball really well and had so many putts that skirted the hole,” said the world number one and four-time Masters champion.
If he was to make it five – and 14 majors – he will have to break new ground. All his previous 13 have come from the front entering the closing 18 holes.
“I’ve put myself right back in the tournament,” added Woods. “Conditions are supposed to be blustery tomorrow and it does not take much to make a high number out there. You’ve just got to hang in there.”
He two-putted the long second after a majestic three-wood to 20 feet and had to wait until the 10th for his next birdie. An 18-footer finally found the target there, he two-putted the 13th and on the 170-yard 17th almost holed out for an eagle.
In the trees for the second day running on the last – his one bad drive – he was lucky to find a gap over the branches, but took advantage by finding the green and making a seven-footer for par.
Ian Poulter, joint third with Flesch and Phil Mickelson overnight, fell back to two under with 75, the same score handed in by twice champion Mickelson after he double-bogeyed the short 16th.
The group on two under and joint seventh also includes Open champion Padraig Harrington after he birdied three of the last four holes for a 69 and Swede Robert Karlsson.
Lee Westwood got to four under, but finished the day only one-under and Nick Dougherty fell back too to one over. They shot 73 and 74 respectively.
Harrington said: “I suppose I’m reasonably happy with the score, but I feel like I maybe should have done a little bit better. The opportunity was there today to shoot a good score.
“I hear tomorrow is going to be a blustery, colder day, so it certainly could make it awkward for people out there leading. Certainly my eye is definitely on the leaders rather than a finishing position.”
Justin Rose, joint leader with Immelman after his opening 68, is down in 35th after adding a 73 to his desperately disappointing Friday 78.
It all went pear-shaped for him with that triple-bogey eight on the long 15th in his second round and Rose said: “There was a lack of adrenaline big time after what happened yesterday.
“I came out with positive thoughts, but found it hard to grind it out.
“Two three-putts in the first six holes and I couldn’t get going. It was really hard work.”
Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle, both 50-plus, perhaps unsurprisingly, faded away to six over and nine over respectively.