Despite a spectacular charge and the round of the week from Jose Maria Olazabal it was Phil Mickelson who was heading for Masters glory at Augusta National last night.
With four holes to play, 2004 champion Mickelson led by three shots. That could have been only one, but 1992 winner Fred Couples  aged 46 and trying to become the tournament's oldest-ever champion  three-putted from four feet on the 14th to
fall back alongside Olazabal, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark and Chad Campbell on four under.
Olazabal had posted a 66 that could have been even better. He three-putted both the 11th and 16th.
Two-time champion Olazabal turned in 32 and after the setback at what is now easily Augusta's toughest hole  there was just one birdie on the 11th all weekend  he followed birdies at the next two with a magnificent eagle at the 15th.
The 40-year-old's towering iron over the lake  a lake that saw in-the-hunt Darren Clarke take eight earlier in the day when the rain-delayed third round resumed  pulled up just two feet from the flag.
B ut Mickelson was unmoved. One ahead of Couples after his morning 70, the left-hander found himself part of a five-way tie at one point, but his birdies at the seventh, eighth and 13th put him back in control of his own destiny.
Clarke had been only one behind when he came back from the triple bogey and started the last round with a 22-foot birdie putt, but then four bogeys in six holes from the fifth took him out of the race.
Plenty of players were applying pressure to Mickelson, but Tiger Woods was not among them. After a hat-trick of bogeys and two trips to the water in his third-round 71, Woods still had a chance, but he could do no better than an outward 36 when he set off again and then three-putted the 11th for the second time in the day.
He did birdie the 13th and 15th to climb to three under and tied seventh, but even they were disappointments, eagle putts of six and eight feet that he badly needed slipping past.
Mickelson was the one who was where he wanted to be.
In position to regain the crown he captured two years ago and also in position to take back-to-back majors after his success in the US PGA last August.
From the time the third round resumed at 7.45am following Saturday's four-hour rain delay, he seized the initiative.
Mickelson, four behind Chad Campbell at the half-way stage, turned that into a one-stroke lead.
Campbell, three clear after two days, had increased that to four with a two-birdie start to his third round, but he dropped two shots before the light ran out and on the resumption had three more bogeys to lose top spot. First it was South African Clark who seized the opportunity, but from two ahead the 30-year-old from Durban found the lofty position too hot to handle as well, double-bogeying the 17th after hitting the Eisenhower pine tree off the 17th tee and then bogeying the last.
Mickelson also finished with a five after badly pulling his approach into the crowd, but he was understandably delighted to be the man to catch, all of a sudden.
"I didn't give much credence yesterday to the fact that the last 15 winners have been in the last group, but now I am leading, I like that stat," he said. "There's pressure, but it's what you dream about and work for."
Woods went in the water in the morning at the 11th and 15th and from the 14th had three successive bogeys for the first time at Augusta in his professional career, but a brilliant closing birdie after a three-iron to nine feet left him only two behind.
If he was to capture his fifth green jacket and 11th major, however, the world No 1 had to do something he had never done before. Come from behind in the final round of a major.