Hoffman leads Garcia in third-round Masters

American Charley Hoffman seized a two-shot lead in Saturday's third round of the Masters as Spain's Sergio Garcia, fighting a history of third-round setbacks at Augusta National, stumbled again.

Sergio Garcia seeks his first major crown in his 74th career major start at Augusta Masters.   -  AFP (File Photo)

American Charley Hoffman seized a two-shot lead in Saturday's third round of the Masters as Spain's Sergio Garcia, fighting a history of third-round setbacks at Augusta National, stumbled again. Hoffman sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-4 ninth while last-group playing partner Garcia missed a four-foot par putt to leave Hoffman solo atop the leaderboard on six-under as he made the turn.

Garcia, winless in 73 prior major starts, slid to second alongside American Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters winner and 2016 runner-up, at four-under. Hoffman, who shared ninth last year, birdied the second and fourth holes but stumbled with a bogey at the par-3 sixth only to right himself at the ninth.

Hoffman opened on 65 to grab a four-stroke lead, the biggest at Augusta since 1955, only to find it gone with the wind after a 75 Friday. Spieth, whose back-nine Sunday meltdown last year doomed his chance for a repeat title, was on a roll at four-under for the day and the tournament after 13 holes.

He had not taken a bogey in 27 holes, since the fourth hole in round two, including an eight-foot par putt Saturday at the par-3 12th, where he made a quadruple bogey in last year's final round. But it was Garcia who flirted with the lead only to falter. The 37-year-old Spaniard birdied the par-4 fifth and answered a bogey at seven with a birdie at the par-5 eighth before his setback at nine.

Ten players were bunched within four strokes atop the leaderboard as the last group made the turn.

A pack on three-under included 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott of Australia, 2013 US Open winner Justin Rose of England, Americans Rickie Fowler and Ryan Moore and Belgium's Thomas Pieters. American William McGirt and South Africa's Charl Schwartzel were on two-under.

In ideal conditions after buffeting winds the first two days, Garcia -- the only player to open with two sub-par rounds -- sank a pressure six-foot par putt at the par-3 sixth and made a five-footer for bogey at seven.

Solid chance

Garcia has never cracked 70 in a Masters third round, going a combined 38-over par in prior third rounds for an average score of 75. Only once in 13 Masters third rounds had Garcia improved his position in round three, going from 19th to 18th in 2015.

Garcia's 20 years of major frustration include four runner-up efforts, the first of them to Tiger Woods as a teen in the 1999 PGA Championship. His best Masters finish was sharing fourth in 2004.

"I've shown myself many times that I can contend and I can truly feel like I can win, not only one, but more than one," Garcia said Friday.

"I'm excited about the challenges that this weekend is going to bring and hopefully I'll step up to them and I'll be able to be up there on Sunday with a solid chance at winning this beautiful tournament."

Adding to the drama is the fact that Sunday's final round falls on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol, countryman Seve Ballesteros, a two-time Masters champion who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.

"It would mean a lot," Garcia said. "That would be the best thing that could happen to me."

On one-under were Spain's Jon Rahm, England's Lee Westwood and 57-year-old Fred Couples. World number two Rory McIlroy was on level par with England's Paul Casey.