AUGUSTA, Ga. — Scottie Scheffler spent all day fending off the cold wind at the Masters, slipping on a vest over his layers of clothing after every shot on every hole. One more round and his next wardrobe change might be a green jacket.
Scheffler looked oblivious to the harsh conditions Saturday, at one point stretching his lead to six shots. He held on during a wild and windy ride along the back nine at Augusta National, escaping with bogey from the trees on the 18th for a 1-under 71 and a three-shot lead over Cameron Smith.
“I was playing some good golf, and outside of a couple holes on the back nine, I could have had a really great round,” Scheffler said. “Anything in the red numbers today was going to be solid, and I was fortunate to do so.”
Smith had the low round at 68, the only player to break 70, and gave himself another shot at winning the Masters in his first start since his victory in The Players Championship. He was a runner-up to Dustin Johnson two years ago.
Sungjae Im (71), also a runner-up in 2020, was the only other player within five shots.
On such a cold day — the wind chill was in the upper 40s most of the day — perhaps this was a warmup for what Scheffler can expect on Sunday at Augusta National, typically the greatest theater of the majors, especially for those seeking their first major.
The last player who failed to hold a lead of three shots or more going into the final round was 21-year-old Rory McIlroy in 2011.
Scheffler looked as thought he might turn this into a runaway when he made his fourth birdie of the round on the par-5 eighth and expanded his lead to six shots.
But then a shot from the front bunker on the par-3 12th went over the green. He bounced back with a birdie only to come up well short of the monstrous mound guarding the back right pin on the 14th for bogey, and three-putting the par-5 15th for another bogey.
Even after his best shot of the round, an approach to 4 feet for birdie on the 17th, he ran into big problems on the 18th. He yanked his tee shot into a canopy of trees and twisted branches, leaving him no choice but to take a penalty drop on the pine straw.
Bold as ever, he smashed his approach from 240 yards onto the green and just over the back, leaving him two putts to keep his distance.
“You hate bogeying the last hole, but the way I bogeyed it, it for sure felt like a par,” Scheffler said. “Definitely a good finish to the day. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Scheffler was at 9-under 207.
Scheffler and Smith might be the two hottest players in golf, too.
Scheffler has won three of his last five tournaments, all against some of the strongest fields of the year, a run that has elevated the 25-year-old from Dallas to No. 1 in the world.
Smith began the year by taking down the former No. 1 player, Jon Rahm, with a record score to par at Kapalua. His latest feat was to win the next best thing to a major, The Players Championship, last month.
“It just means I can get it done, I guess, when I’m up against the best guys in the world. It’s a good feeling to have. It’s earned. It’s not given to you,” Smith said. “So I’m going to have to go out there tomorrow and play really good golf again, probably similar to today. Hopefully, everything just falls into place.”
Tiger Woods finished as Scheffler was still comfortably ahead, and the five-time Masters champion feels as though he has seen this before. Players hit peak form all the time, and it’s especially sweet when that run is in the spring with the Masters on the calendar.
Woods won back-to-back ahead of his Masters victory in 2001. Jordan Spieth won and had a pair of runner-up finishes when he won his green jacket in 2015. Fred Couples won twice and was runner-up twice ahead of his 1992 victory at Augusta.
“We all wish we had that two, three-month window when we get hot, and hopefully majors fall somewhere along in that window. We take care of it in those windows,” Woods said. “Scottie seems to be in that window right now.”
Charl Schwartzel, who won the Masters in 2011, was trying to keep stride with Smith until he three-putted from about 8 feet for bogey on the 16th and dropped another shot on the 17th, slipping to a 73. He was at 2-under 214 along with Shane Lowry (73).
The Associated Press contributed to this story.