AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The third round of the 77th Masters began with a controversy surrounding one of its most illustrious champions that threatened to overshadow the tournament.
But then some good stuff started to happen on the golf course that refocused the attention back on the game.
With a 2-under 70 on Saturday, Tiger Woods crept his way back onto the leaderboard after starting the day 5 shots back of the lead. Now he is chasing a gang of mostly hungry players trying to win their first major championship.
Chief among them is Brandt Snedeker, the 32-year-old Nashville native who first came to Augusta in 2004 as the winner of the U.S. Amateur Public Links. On Saturday, he shot a 3-under 69 to share the 54-hole lead at 7 under with Angel Cabrera, the 43-year-old Argentinian who won here in 2009.
In 2008, Snedeker started the final round at the Masters in second place. Playing in the final group that Sunday with the eventual winner, Trevor Immelman, the former Vanderbilt star shot a 77 that brought him to tears in his post-round interview.
But five years later, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion says he is better equipped to do deal with the intense pressure of a Sunday at Augusta.
"I had no clue what I was doing in 2008," he said. "I had no game plan, no idea of when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive, how to play this golf course the way you're supposed to play it.
"I have a completely clear focus of what I need to do tomorrow, clear set of goals that I need to hit. If I do that, I have a chance to win this golf tournament."
Staring Snedeker in the face is a former Masters champion and three Australians, who are trying to bring the first green jacket to their country. And then there is the fabulously consistent Matt Kuchar lurking 3 shots back at 4-under par.
Almost anybody within 5 shots of the lead could win this tournament on Sunday, but Snedeker will be difficult to beat, even with major champions such as Cabrera and Woods pressing their cases.
Yet with the exception of Tiger, Snedeker is the only player in the top 10 on the leaderboard with a victory in a stroke-play event in 2013. Before a rib injury sidelined him after his win in February at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Snedeker was one of the hottest players on the planet with a win, two second places and a third in his first five starts of the year. Since coming back at Bay Hill in late March, he's missed two cuts, but that's mostly due to rust.
"It's been two seasons, I guess, is the best way to put it," Snedeker said on Saturday night. "The first part of the season, I was healthy, playing great, nothing was wrong. And then I got hurt and had to start pretty much from scratch again.
"So getting that feeling back, the momentum back, like I did early in the year, I feel like my golf swing is getting back to the way it was. My short game is in really good shape and I'm excited."
Last Fall, Snedeker was one of Davis Love III's four captain's picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He had earned the invitation largely off the reputation of his putter. At the Tour Championship, he validated Love's decision by winning the tournament and the FedEx Cup title.
Snedeker would struggle to a 1-2 record at Medinah as a rookie in the biennial matches. However before the Ryder Cup, he had raised some eyebrows with some fighting words directed at the European team.
"I'm very, very competitive," he said. "People don't get that because I'm polite. But I'm going to try to beat their brains in as bad as I can."
On Saturday afternoon in Augusta, he still sounded like a man ready for a fight.
"I've spent 32 years of my life getting ready for tomorrow and it's all been a learning process, and I am completely, 100 percent sure that I'm ready to handle no matter what happens tomorrow," he said. "I'm going to be disappointed if I don't win, period.
"I'm not here to get a good finish. I'm not here to finish top‑5. I'm here to win and that's all I'm going to be focused on tomorrow. I realize what I have to do to do that and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that that happens."
It's easy to believe Snedeker's self-belief because he's been putting these words into action all week in the way he's patiently plodded his way around this very difficult golf course.
He won't shoot 77 on Sunday like he did in 2008.
He's played in hundreds of tournaments through the years from junior golf to the pros just for the five hours that he will spend with Cabrera on some of the most splendid manicured acreage in the world.
On Sunday, Sneds will make believers out of doubters.
"I'm mentally fresh and physically fresh, and you know, this is what I've worked my whole life for is [Sunday]," Snedeker said. "So I'm really excited about what [Sunday] holds."