The Masters: Angel Cabrera ducks under the radar to take the lead

'El Pato' will be in the last pair along with Snedeker going into final round with Australian trio also poised to challenge

Augusta

Whatever side of the moral fence you fall with Tiger Woods, you cannot but admire his capacity for trauma management. Summoned at 8am to account for his flawed penalty drop the evening before, Woods had no idea he would survive the moral case for his exclusion after signing for an incorrect score. The competitions committee eventually found in his favour on a technicality; nevertheless there was enough intrigue and in some quarters outrage swirling around this verdant precinct to shake a mortal to the core.

Not this fella. He strode to that first tee with a conscience as clear as an Argentinian pope and duly smashed the ball down the middle to set up an opening birdie. Three strokes was all it took to halve the two-shot penalty that took his score back to one under par. He went to the second tee just four off the lead. Who knows from where individuals of Woods's temerity derive the front to proceed on their own terms, free of doubt? It doesn't guarantee that all the shots will fly off the grooves smiling, but it sure increases the chances that they might.

Woods had a share of the lead on five under par and was flying when he whacked that flag stick at the 15th on Friday square in the face. Yesterday he was invited to walk in the shoes of Sisyphus and push that rock back up the hill.

Behind him the lead was shifting between the hands of Freddie Couples, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and the redoubtable Angel Cabrera, aiming to follow in his duck prints of 2009. Few thought "El Pato" might waddle to a green jacket then, still fewer this year, but here he was making it all look so simple. So was Couples until he ran up a double bogey at the seventh, precipitating an ugly collapse to level par. Augusta National is a minefield on a benign day. Television does not begin to convey the undulations on friction-free greens that would test the mettle were they pancake flat.

Here we were approaching five o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday and a lead established at six under par on Thursday had not moved beyond that mark until Cabrera nudged that dial with a 25-footer into the back of the cup at the 10th.

He gave it back at the 12th after finding the bunker off the tee and was in trouble again behind a tree in Phil Mickelson country right of the 13th fairway, leading to another dropped shot.

The reluctance of the leaders to advance offered some protection to the Britons labouring down the field. Rory McIlroy, who began the day full of promise on two under par, had the joy beaten out of him at the 11th where he racked up a triple-bogey seven after finding the water with a wedge and three-putting. The ball quickly followed his sinking hopes back into the water, thrown there by a frustrated golfer.

McIlroy added another seven for a double at the 15th via the same watery agency and bogeyed the 16th en route to wretched back nine of 42 and a round of 79.

"I felt good coming in here," McIlroy said. "I played really well the first couple of days. I grinded well. I was hitting the ball nicely. Today I started off well. The first six holes I played nearly perfectly. So I can't really fault that. The missed drive on the seventh and the drives at eight and 11 really cost me."

Meanwhile Lee Westwood and Justin Rose reached the turn four off the lead but there was no sense that they were on the charge. Westwood hung on to close on two under par, Rose even. All of this was manna to Woods, who followed a three-putt at 11 with three birdies in the next four holes to shove that rock back to three under par.

He would view the par-save at 16 in the same light as a birdie after finding the sand off the tee. He was in trouble again at 17, invited to get up and down from the front left trap to save par. No problem.

Maybe the 18th would spring some bad karma on his day. That prospect rose with a poor approach after pushing his tee shot left, narrowly avoiding the pines.

His chip ran out of legs 12 feet short, increasing the tension around the green. Up he stepped to meet the challenge for the umpteenth time in his career and sign for a 69. An incredible performance.

Tianlang Guan continued his march through an improbable week with a 77. The Chinese schoolboy was the only amateur to make the cut. That he has managed to keep an 80 off his card is a matter of some embarrassment for observers in the press gallery. Many predicted an early bath for the whippet-thin 14-year-old. What do we know?

Brandt Snedeker carded a bogey-free 69 to reach the clubhouse on seven under par, where he was joined by the indefatigable Cabrera, who speared a birdie at the last. Adam Scott closed on six under with fellow Antipodeans Day and Leishman one further back. What a Sunday beckons for Australian sport. Maybe they will make themselves available for the Ashes this summer. Goodness knows the Aussies need somebody to hit the cherry off the middle.

Augusta leaderboard: Third-round scores

209

Brandt Snedeker (US) 70 70 69

Angel Cabrera (Arg) 71 69 69

210

Adam Scott (Aus) 69 72 69

211

Marc Leishman (Aus) 66 73 72

Jason Day (Aus) 70 68 73

212

Matt Kuchar (US) 68 75 69

213

Tiger Woods (US) 70 73 70

Tim Clark (SA) 70 76 67

214

Steve Stricker (US) 73 70 71

Rickie Fowler (US) 68 76 70

Bernhard Langer (Ger) 71 71 72

Lee Westwood (GB) 70 71 73

Jim Furyk (US) 69 71 74

215

Nick Watney (US) 78 69 68

Bo van Pelt (US) 71 74 70

Sergio Garcia (Sp) 66 76 73

Gonzalo F-Castano (Sp) 68 74 73

216

Fred Couples (US) 68 71 77

Zach Johnson (US) 69 76 71

Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 78 70 68

Justin Rose (GB) 70 71 75

Jason Dufner (US) 72 69 75

217

Dustin Johnson (US) 67 76 74

Carl Schwartzel (SA) 71 71 75

Bill Haas (US) 71 72 74

Freddie Jacobson (US) 72 73 72

John Senden (US) 72 70 75

218

Ernie Els (SA) 71 74 73

Luke Donald (GB) 71 72 75

John Huh (US) 70 77 71

Bubba Watson (US) 75 73 70

K J Choi (S Kor) 70 71 77

219

D A Points (US) 72 75 72

Robert Garrigus (US) 76 71 72

Branden Grace (SA) 78 70 71

Stewart Cink (US) 75 71 73

Henrik Stenson (Swe) 75 71 73

220

Kevin Na (US) 70 76 74

Jose-Maria Olazabal (Sp) 74 72 74

Vijay Singh (Fiji) 72 74 74

Brian Gay (US) 72 74 74

David Toms (US) 70 74 76

Richard Sterne (SA) 73 72 75

221

Rory McIlroy (GB) 72 70 79

Trevor Immelman (SA) 68 75 78

Paul Lawrie (GB) 76 70 75

Lucas Glover (US) 74 74 73

Martin Kaymer (Ger) 72 75 74

David Lynn (GB) 68 73 80

222

Thomas Bjorn (Den) 73 73 76

Scott Piercy (US) 75 69 78

John Peterson (US) 71 77 74

223

Peter Hanson (Swe) 72 75 76

Michael Thompson (US) 73 71 79

Carl Pettersson (Swe) 76 70 77

224

Phil Mickelson (US) 71 76 77

Ryo Ishikawa (Japan) 71 77 76

Ryan Moore (US) 71 72 81

225

*Tianlang Guan (China) 73 75 77

226

Sandy Lyle (GB) 73 72 81

228

Keegan Bradley (US) 73 73

*amateur

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