Moments after stepping off the course with a share of the lead at the Masters, Brandt Snedeker took his seat at the interview table and shifted in his chair as he thought about his last two golf tournaments.
An up-and-down season hit rock bottom last month with back-to-back missed cuts at the Shell Houston Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and Snedeker briefly took himself back to the frustration.
“I realize it’s a long year,” he said. “You’re going to go through — I’m not Tiger Woods. I’m not a Rory McIlroy. I’m not going to be a guy that makes a hundred cuts in a row or be an overpowering player.”
Few would have liked to be in Tiger Woods’ position Saturday at Augusta National.
Woods, the No. 1 golfer in the world, avoided a possible disqualification and was hit with a two-shot penalty before his third round even began, possibly costing him a shot at the lead, while Snedeker and Argentine Angel Cabrera took full advantage, firing 3-under 69s to share the Masters lead at 7-under heading into today’s final round.
Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion, and Snedeker, whose best finish at Augusta was a tie for third in 2008, have a one-shot lead on Aussie Adam Scott and two-shot lead on Scott’s fellow countrymen — 18-hole leader Marc Leishman and 36-hole leader Jason Day — while Georgia Tech grad Matt Kuchar sits three back at 4-under.
On a day in which roars from the crowd were at a minimum, Snedeker remained steady, parring his first 12 holes before birdieing three of his final six to move to the top of the crowded leaderboard.
“I’ve spent 32 years of my life getting ready for (today), and it’s all been a learning process and I am completely, 100 percent sure that I’m ready to handle no matter what happens (today),” said Snedeker, who is looking for his first major championship. “I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t win. Period. I’m not here to get a good finish. I’m not here to finish Top 5. I’m here to win, and that’s all I’m going to be focused on (today).”
Cabrera was nearly just as consistent Saturday, finishing with a 13-foot putt for birdie on No. 18. The two-time major champion finished with six birdies and three bogeys on a course that played difficult Saturday with tough pin positions, but Cabrera drew from his past experience at Augusta National to pull ahead of the field.
“In 2009, I was nervous, anxious,” said Cabrera, who beat Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry in a playoff to get his green jacket. “But now I’m very comfortable. I know what I’ve got to do (today) to be able to get the win.”
It’s a 1-2 combination on top of the leaderboard that nobody saw coming in a tournament that Woods was favored to end a five-year major championship drought and world No. 2 Rory McIlroy was poised to make some noise.
McIlroy is 12 shots back at 5-over par and Woods has some ground to gain at 3-under.
For the moment, it’s all about the unlikely duo of Snedeker, the No. 5 golfer in the world, and Cabrera, the 269th-ranked player in the world.
“Saturday was definition time,” Cabrera said. “(Today) it’s more about execution and about patience. I don’t think it’s a big advantage that I’ve won before. It’s more about patience.”
Cabrera has battled injuries the past two seasons and hasn’t finished in the Top 10 in a tournament since 2011. Like Snedeker, he missed the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 24, but he finished tied for 16th two weeks ago in the Shell Houston Open.
Cabrera said one of the reasons he had success with the tough pin positions Saturday was his knowledge of the course.
“I think it’s important that you know where to miss,” he said. “That’s very important, to know where to miss. And when you’ve played so many times or many years at this tournament, it really helps just the fact that you know where you can miss a shot.”
Snedeker, second in the FedEx Cup point standings behind Woods, won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February but hasn’t made a cut since, also due to injuries.
“Getting that feeling back, the momentum back, like I did early in the year, I feel like my golf swing is getting back to the way it was,” Snedeker said. “I’m fresh. I’m mentally fresh and physically fresh, and you know, this is what I’ve worked my whole life for is (today). So I’m really excited about what (today) holds.”
Day was on top of the leaderboard for much of the third round but bogeyed his last two holes to shoot a 1-over 73. Scott went the other direction at the end of his round, sinking birdie putts on Nos. 13, 15 and 17 to come in at 3-under 69.
Scott tied for second at the Masters in 2011 and, like Day, is trying to become the first Australian to win at Augusta.
“Well, I mean, it’s hard to say exactly what (winning the Masters would mean to my country),” Scott said. “I’d rather not sit here and wonder so much. I’d rather do that if I win (today). But, look, Aussies are proud sporting people, and we’d love to put another notch in our belt, just like any great sporting country. This is one thing that one of us would like to do (today) for sure.”
Woods is trying to end a drought of his own and is in position to make a move today, similar to 2005 when he came back from a six-shot deficit after two rounds to beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
Woods, who hasn’t won a major championship since 2008, was handed a two-shot penalty early Saturday for an improper drop on the 15th hole of Friday’s round but got both of those strokes back with a 2-under 70.
“(Saturday) started off obviously different, but I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “As of right now I’m four back with a great shot to win this championship.”
Woods is tied for seventh with Tim Clark, who had the low round of the day — a 5-under 67 that lifted him 30 positions on the leaderboard.
Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer, Lee Westwood and Jim Furyk, are all five shots back at 2-under, while Fred Couples, who began Saturday in second place, fell into a tie for 18th with a 5-over 77.
Georgia grad and defending Masters champion Bubba Watson fired a 2-under 70 but is nine shots off the lead. Phil Mickelson struggled to a 5-over 77 and is 15 shots back, and 14-year-old Chinese Tianlang Guan, the youngest player to play at the Masters and the youngest player to make a cut in a major since 1900, shot a 5-over 77, his worst round of the tournament, to drop to 9-over.