Watson had four bogeys on the front side Saturday -- twice as many as he had in the first two rounds combined -- and failed to pull away from an emboldened group of challengers that included 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, whose two-under-par 70 in the third round gave him a share of the lead with Watson at five-under 211 through 54 holes.
Already the youngest player since the Depression to win on the PGA Tour, Spieth showed he might be ready to make a run at becoming a major champion. A birdie at the 15th pushed the Texan to two under par on the day at a spot atop the leaderboard.
“Today was moving day,” said Spieth, who could become the first Masters rookie to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. “And tomorrow is about seeing how I can control my game and emotions out on the golf course against guys that have even won here recently. So they have been in the position I haven't. Doesn't necessarily mean — I don't think — that they have an advantage in any way. I think that I'm very confident in the way things are going. And really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Woods was 21 when he won his first Masters in 1997. Spieth would be the youngest major champion since Tom Creavy, who was a few months younger than Spieth when he won the 1931 PGA Championship.
Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, posted two rounds in the 60s to start the tournament, giving him a three-stroke lead and the largest 36-hole edge since Chad Campbell in 2006.
By the time he made the turn in front of the historic clubhouse, Watson's lead was gone. He got it back with a birdie at the 10th, but a three-putt par at the par-five 13th kept him from opening a lead. He also missed a birdie chance after a massive drive at the par-five No. 15.
“If somebody told me I would have shot two over and still be tied for the lead, I would have taken it in a heartbeat,” Watson said. “So I got a shot on Sunday.”
Those in contention includue Matt Kuchar, who squandered chances to win in each of the last two weeks. He hit a pitch from well behind the 15th green that had to be perfect and was, setting up the best of his six birdies in a round of 68. Kuchar, a favorite in these parts from his days at Georgia Tech, was one shot behind the leaders along with Masters rookie Jonas Blixt, who fell out of the lead with a bogey on the 17th and shot 71.
Gary Woodland, 29, was the first player to make a big move Saturday with a six-under 30 on the front nine, but his incredible run came to a crashing halt on the back nine.
After starting the day seven under through 10 holes, he came back to earth with a bogey on the par-four 11th hole and a double bogey on the famed par-three 12th.
So after rising to a tie for third, the big hitter from Topeka, Kan., settled for a three-under 69 and was even for the tournament in a tie for 14th place, seven strokes behind Watson, who had yet to stumble on Saturday.
Jimenez made the earliest charge Saturday with a brilliant 66 that sent him to three under after 54 holes. That puts him right in the hunt of a tournament he’s grown to fully appreciate over his 15 trips here.
"It's just about passion and staying calm,” Jimenez said. “This golf course is demanding. You need to be very strong mentally.”
Rickie Fowler certainly held strong Saturday himself, charging from two over at the start of the day to three under when he finished. Fowler was most pleased with his ability to attack the par-five holes, birdieing all of them to punctuate his solid round.
“It’s what I was trying to do and what I felt like I needed to get out of today,” he said. “Took advantage of those par fives and that definitely makes it a lot easier around this place. I hadn’t really done that the first two days. So it’s nice to do that today. And we’ll see if we can do the same tomorrow.”
Fowler was also asked what it might be like to potentially play with close friend Bubba Watson on the final day of the Masters, a scenario that could materialize.
“It’d be a lot of fun,” Fowler said. “I know we would enjoy throwing blows at each other. He’s already got one green jacket. So it’s my turn.”
Tribune staff writers Teddy Greenstein and Dan Wieberger as well as Associated Press contributed to this report.