Only seven players were under par for the final round in the early going, Australian Steve Bowditch the best of them after eagling the par-five second and recording a birdie at the par-four third to get to one over for the tournament.
Most fans, however, were eagerly anticipating the later teeoffs with 13 players separated by just four strokes at the top of the leaderboard in the year’s opening major.
Bubba Watson, the 2012 champion, was joint pacesetter at five under with fellow American Jordan Spieth, who at 20 is trying to become the youngest player to win the Masters, putting him ahead of Tiger Woods who was 21 when he triumphed in 1997.
Georgia resident Matt Kuchar, who knows the Augusta National layout as well as anyone in the field and is seeking his first major victory, was a further shot back with Swede Jonas Blixt.
Pony-tailed Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, at the ripe age of 50 aiming to surpass Jack Nicklaus by becoming the oldest Masters champion, was at three under, along with 25-year-old American Rickie Fowler.
Among other players close to the lead heading into Sunday’s final round were 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and former world number one Lee Westwood, at two under, and reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, a further stroke back.
Intriguing storylines were in abundance, with virtually every player in the top 13 overnight capturing the imagination because of previous glittering achievements and rich promise for the future.
Whoever ends up winning, however, will have to handle the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the back nine at Augusta National where danger and glory wait in equal measure.
Watson knows as well as anyone that every player in contention would feel the nerves as the drama intensified.
“We’re all trying to win the same trophy,” said the left-hander, who clinched his first major title with a thrilling playoff victory over South African Louis Oosthuizen at Augusta National in 2012. “We are all trying to do the same thing.
“We are all going to be nervous and we all know what it means to our career, for our status to move forward in the game. So it’s going to be tough for everybody, not just guys that have never won one (a major).”
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)