AUGUSTA - Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry have proven they can handle the pressure on golf's biggest stage. Next up is Sunday at Augusta National, a test unlike any other they have faced.
Cabrera, who won the U.S. Open two years ago at Oakmont, made three birdies on the back nine and scratched out an important par on the final hole Saturday at the Masters for a 3-under 69.
Perry, who thrived under the spotlight of a Ryder Cup in his native Kentucky last September, overcame two mistakes with his putter around Amen Corner and finished with five straight pars for a 70 to join the Argentine in the lead.
It will be the first time they've played in the final group at a major.
And not just any major.
They were at 11-under 205, the lowest 54-hole score at the Masters since the course was supersized seven years ago. The back nine at Augusta National is among the most intense in golf, and officials are expected to set up the course to allow for birdies and eagles.
'I'm lucky enough to be in a very good position,' Cabrera said. 'I haven't been in this position before so I'll try to make the most of it.'
Perry lost in a playoff at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in 1996, when he was criticized for being in the broadcast booth instead of keeping loose on the practice range. He never would have imagined that all these years later, he would have a chance to become golf's oldest major champion at 48.
'The first two days felt like I was on vacation,' Perry said. 'Today felt like a job.'
They had a two-shot lead over Chad Campbell, who led briefly on the back nine until a blunder on the 16th hole when he took two shots to get out of the bunker, made double bogey and wound up with a 72.
Jim Furyk, another former U.S. Open champion, shot 68 and was three shots behind at 8-under 208.
The Masters began with the anticipation of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson going head-to-head in the final round, and that's what happened. Trouble is, both were seven shots behind and still trying to convince themselves that they still had a chance.
Woods began his Saturday charge by hooking his tee shot into the trees and making double bogey. His tee shot on the par-3 sixth hit the base of the pin and tumbled off the green. He rallied with three birdies over the last six holes for a 70.
Mickelson's rally was slowed by three poor chips, and he escaped with a 71 only after hitting a big slice from the trees on the 18th hole that started down the 10th fairway and wound up on the green.
They were at 4-under 212.
'A lot of things happen on Sunday at Augusta, and I would never put it past happening again,' Mickelson said. 'I think that at this golf course, funny things can happen, and if you get momentum on your side and you're making some birdies, you can make a lot of them.'
And then he offered another scenario that he and Woods desperately need.
'When it starts coming apart, it's hard to get it back,' Mickelson said. 'And it's easy to tumble.'
There was little sign of that happening with Perry and Cabrera on a breezy afternoon, on a course where the greens remained relatively soft from an overnight downpour.
Perry became the first player to reach 12-under par at any point in the tournament since 2002 when he rolled in an 8-foot birdie on the 10th hole, and it allowed him to wonder if this might really be his week.
But he three-putted from just off the front of the 11th green of his first bogey, then fell out of the lead on the par-3 12th. After hitting over the green, Perry tried putting up the slope and hit it too hard, the ball bouncing over the cup 15 feet away for another bogey.
He recovered with a 4-iron to about 25 feet for a two-putt birdie on the 13th.
Woods left the course knowing that even having a remote chance would depend on how the leaders played the back nine. They helped slightly but not running away, with Campbell shooting a 38 on the back and Perry getting around in 36.
The world's No. 1 player has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes, and only once has he won when trailing by more than seven shots going into the final round of any tournament.
'That was a hell of a fight,' Woods said. 'I'm pretty proud of the fact I got myself back in the tournament, considering that I didn't hit it as well as I wanted to and had two three-putts.'
The forecast was for sunshine and fireworks, perhaps a back-nine charge not seen this decade at Augusta National.
Steve Stricker played bogey-free for a 68 that put him four shots behind at 7-under 209, with former British Open champion Todd Hamilton (72), Shingo Katayama (70) and Rory Sabbatini (70) another shot behind.