Tiger Woods teed off on Sunday at the Masters needing to break par in the final round in order to avoid his worst professional result at Augusta National, well out of impending back-nine drama.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, went out more than three hours before leader Peter Hanson of Sweden and second-place Phil Mickelson were set to start in the last group.
At three-over 219 in a share of 38th for 54 holes, four-time Masters winner Woods was 12 strokes off the pace, well beyond the all-time greatest last-day comeback to win in Masters history, Jack Burke's eight-stroke rally in 1956.
Woods, 36, shared 22nd in 2004 for his worst Masters placing as a pro, his two-over 290 total that year and in 2003 level for his worst 72-hole Augusta pro total. As an amateur he was 41st on 293 in 1995 and missed the 1996 cut.
After snapping a 28-month win drought by capturing the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, Woods has struggled in his quest to win his first major since the 2008 US Open, particularly with erratic tee shots.
While Woods tries to mount a charge, the promise of true drama beckoned in an afternoon back-nine showdown for the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy.
Three-time Masters champion Mickelson fired his best round at Augusta National since 1996, a six-under 66, on Saturday to move within a stroke of the lead and join Hanson in the final pairing, which has produced 19 of the past 21 Masters champions.
Hanson, seeking his first major title after missing the cut in his only prior Masters appearance, was on nine-under 207 with 41-year-old US left-hander Mickelson one shot back.
Mickelson has birdied the par-5 15th and par-4 18th in all three prior rounds and has two birdies and an eagle at the par-5 13th, the last hole of the famed Amen Corner layout along Rae's Creek that has doomed many title hopes.
Mickelson, who won his first major title at the 2004 Masters and added titles at Augusta in 2006 and 2010, praised his putting stroke for being the key factor in solving the undulating greens that make the course so formidable.
"It has been so good. It has been the best I have had in my career," said Mickelson. "This week, where I know the greens so well and the breaks, it has been really good."
South African Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, was poised in third on 209.
Strong showings by "Oosty" over the closing holes the first two days brought back memories of his pal Charl Schwartzel's record Masters finish last year when he became the first major champion to birdie the last four holes to win.
Schwartzel's triumph came after one of the most exciting back-nine shootouts in majors history with eight players having a taste of the lead over the last tension-packed holes.
With Augusta National often offering up pin positions over the last holes that offer a chance at birdies and eagles for those willing to take risks at the proper moment, the recipe for more magic lingered amid the Georgia pines.
American Bubba Watson was fourth on 210, one stroke in front of Matt Kuchar and two ahead of a foursome that included World No. 3 Lee Westwood of England, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Sweden's Henrik Stenson and American Hunter Mahan.
Scotsman Paul Lawrie, the 1999 British Open champion, was six adrift.© ANP/AFP