The golf world was starting to forget about the "Fab Four" last night - thanks to the return of the "Fab One."

After ten majors without a win and five where he has not even been in contention in the last round, Tiger Woods closed in on an amazing fourth Masters victory.

And with it he would not only return to the world No 1 spot, but also improve his collection of major crowns to nine; halfway to the record set on the same course by Jack Nicklaus 19 years ago.

The 29-year-old would also be joint-third in the all-time list alongside Ben Hogan and Gary Player, with Tom Watson left behind and only Walter Hagen with 11 and Nicklaus ahead.

Moreover, four green jackets would be something he shared with Arnold Palmer. Again only Nicklaus, inevitably, has more with six.

With 11 holes to play - each of them capable of changing everything - Woods was three clear of Chris DiMarco and six ahead of the third-placed pair, defending champion Phil Mickelson and South African Trevor Immelman.

The day had begun with Woods four behind Ryder Cup team-mate DiMarco nine holes into the delayed third round, but within 30 minutes the momentum had switched.

Woods, resuming on the 10th fairway, hit a six-iron to 10 feet and made what was his fourth successive birdie. DiMarco, in the group behind, squirted his approach into a bush, took a penalty drop and came off with a double-bogey six.

The gap was instantly down to one and Woods then took his run of birdies to a record-equalling seven in a row, holing from 15 feet, seven feet and seven again --after almost dumping his five-iron into Rae's Creek.

The first-ever 62 in majors was a real possibility at that point, but he three-putted the 14th and went from trees into the lake for a bogey six at the 15th and had to settle for a 65 on top of his second-round 66.

It seemed far more than three days ago that he putted into the creek on the 13th and hit a drive only 100 yards on the second.

DiMarco could find no answer, coming home in 41 and falling three behind with a bogey on the 17th.

Four hours later, they set out for the final lap and Woods birdied the first two holes to get to 13-under.

Di Marco, however, matched his four on the long second and was back to only three behind when Woods three-putted the fifth.

All Woods' previous eight major championship victories had been played from the front and with 16 birdies in his last two rounds - a 13-under 131 which equalled the record he established in 1997 - he was an odds-on favourite.

In the weekend that saw Nicklaus bring the curtain down on his Masters career, Woods could take that as a lucky omen.

Nicklaus' last US Open was in 2000 and Woods won by a major-record 15 shots. The Golden Bear's farewell to the US PGA was two months later and Woods won that in a play-off against Bob May.

Woods also thought that Nicklaus was playing his last Open when he won at St Andrews in 2000, but Nicklaus has now said he will play again on the Old Course this summer.

That was down the road. Yesterday, barring a nightmare somewhere, he was in a straight head-to-head with DiMarco.

That was because Dane Thomas Bjorn, four behind with a round to go, went into the trees on the second, was forced to take a penalty drop and ran up a seven.

DiMarco spoke to officials playing the eighth and it proved to be a problem with his driver. Spares were brought out to him and he made his selection. Both parred the par five eighth. Then, with the new club immediately put into use, DiMarco birdied the ninth after a fine approach to four feet. He remained three behind, however, as Woods slotted in a seven-footer. Both turned in 34.

Both Woods and DiMarco had a lucky break on the 10th, but DiMarco was the one to take advantage and he cut his deficit to two.

Woods had a rebound off the trees after hooking his drive, while his playing partner had a clear path between the trunks after pulling his approach. DiMarco chipped to eight feet and made, but Woods, from just right of the green, did not even make the putting surface.

It was suddenly game-on again at the 11th when DiMarco holed from 35 feet and Woods missed from around 22. One shot split them now.

Donald doubles up to make history Luke Donald last night became just the tenth player in Masters history to eagle the 13th and 15th holes in the same round - and with two late birdies as well made it a memorable debut in the event.

Donald climbed to fourth by following a double bogey six at the tenth by playing the next six holes in six under. He chipped in at the 15th.

The 27-year-old had been joint second after an opening 68, dropped back into the pack with a second round 77, but was showing why many people think he has the game to win major titles.

Just two weeks ago, of course, he was joint runner-up in the Players Championship in Florida - golf's unofficial fifth major.

Earlier, having witnessed Tiger Woods' amazing charge at the Masters before lunch England's David Howell went out and earned himself a second trip to Augusta with a superb closing 69.

Joint leader with Ryder Cup team-mate Luke Donald and American Chris DiMarco midway through the second round, Howell had fallen back to 21st with a 76 when he was paired with Woods.

But the 29-year-old from Swindon, little known in the United States, then had the first eagle of the week on the 575-yard second and after hitting trouble around Amen Corner at the start of the back nine had a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th.

The top 16 earn invitations to next year's tournament and with the leaders coming to the closing stretch Howell was in a tie for 12th.