AUGUSTA, Ga. – There was a three-way tie atop the Masters leaderboard, but all eyes were on Tiger Woods.
The world's No. 1 player made the most of moving day, climbing into contention for his fifth green jacket despite squandering numerous chances to get even closer to the lead at damp Augusta National.
Trying to overcome a daunting seven-shot deficit at the start of the third round, Woods knocked four strokes off the gap when he walked off with a 4-under 68, certainly making those ahead of him — including leaders Brandt Snedeker, Trevor Immelman and Paul Casey — a little nervous.
"I put myself right back in the tournament," Woods said.
Imagine if he had made a few putts.
After rolling in a 25-footer for birdie at No. 2, he began a stretch of four straight holes with birdie tries of no more than 15 feet starting at the fifth. He missed them all, including a 6-footer at No. 8. Then, after a nifty bunker shot stopped 8 feet past the cup at the par-5 15th, Woods putted wide left.
"That was probably about as high a score as I could have shot today," he said. "If I had made a few more putts, I'd be right there. But I'm right there anyway."
Smiling all the way around the front nine, Snedeker claimed the lead all to himself when Immelman made a bogey at No. 4. The former U.S. Amateur Public Links champion birdied both par 5s on the front and had parred everything else until his first slip-up, a bogey at No. 11, knocked him back into a deadlock with Immelman and Casey at 8 under.
Immelman, the 36-hole leader, was holding steady, playing the first 11 holes at even par. Casey shot 32 on the front side to surge into contention.
None of the leaders has won a major championship. Neither has Steve Flesch, the only other player between Woods and the lead at 7 under through 12 holes.
Phil Mickelson, trying to win his third green jacket in five years, made a birdie at No. 2 to get within two strokes of the lead, but faded badly with a stretch of four bogeys in seven holes.
Lefty got a tough break at the par-5 eighth, hitting the flagstick with a shot that likely would have given him an easy birdie attempt. Instead, the ball nearly ricocheted off the front of the green and he wound up three-putting.
Then there's Woods, who hopes to get started on an unprecedented Grand Slam. He pulled within four strokes of Snedeker with a tap-in birdie at No. 17, the ball nearly going in the hole for eagle. Then, after driving into the trees left of the 18th fairway, he knocked it on the green from the pinestraw and made a testy 7-footer to save par.
Woods breathed a sign of relief as he walked off the green, though it's worth noting: He's never won a major — and he's done it 13 times — when trailing after 54 holes. He's at 5-under 211.
"I hit a lot of good putts that were not quite the right speed or the right line," he said. "When that happens, you've got to pay the price."
Defending Masters champion Zach Johnson bolstered his faint hopes of winning a second straight green jacket by shooting a 68, bringing his total to 214.
After two days of warm, sunny weather, the Masters turned wet. The third round was briefly halted because of heavy rain that left giant puddles on several greens.
Umbrellas popped up all over the course as play began in a light drizzle. With the leaders still waiting to tee off, the horns sounded and play was halted at 1 p.m. when a line of heavy storms moved over the course. Play resumed after a 45-minute delay, the puddles on the 12th and 18th greens having been pushed aside with squeegees.
Players couldn't be too excited about the prospect Sunday of gusts up to 20 mph, especially down in Amen Corner. Temperatures in the 60s are also expected.
Woods, who had proclaimed the Grand Slam "easily within reason," will need the second-greatest 36-hole rally in Masters history to keep his quest going beyond April.
Only Jackie Burke, who overcame an eight-shot deficit to win in 1956, rallied from farther back at the midway point.