Masters: Bubba Watson was joined by Jordan Spieth heading into the final round
Bubba Watson was joined by Jordan Spieth at the top of the leaderboard after a testing third round of the Masters
Last Updated: 13/04/14 10:24am
The 2012 champion struggled all day on the greens and had to hole out from five feet at the last to record a 74 and remain tied for the lead with young Spieth.
At 20, the Augusta rookie will bid to become the youngest champion in history on Sunday after a second successive round of 70 took him to the summit.
Watson - three clear overnight - had briefly held a five shot cushion after a fine approach to the second set up an eagle, but soon started to struggle and appeared to be troubled by the quickening greens.
He dropped shots at the fourth, sixth and seventh and regularly left his long putts short of the hole, costing him the chance to atone for his early mistakes.
A birdie at the 10th got him back to six-under for the championship but he could only par the long 13th and 15th holes despite only having a short iron into the greens.
Another shot went at the 16th after leaving a putt from off the green short, but he holed out well at the last two holes to remain in the final group on Sunday.
"I was pumped up, my shots were going further than I was expecting them to, and the greens got firmer, harder and made it difficult," he said.
"It wouldn't be that bad, it was just a couple of things here and there. I know what it takes, the pressure will get to everybody but knowing that I've done it one time will help a little bit."
Spieth overcame some wayward drives in the middle of his round to hit back with birdies at the 14th and 15th to continue his remarkable rise in the game over the past 12 months.
History is against the American though as Fuzzy Zoeller was the last player to claim a Green Jacket at his first attempt back in 1979.
"This is where I wanted to be, it was a huge goal of mine to put myself in the position to contend at a major championship, and the Masters sticks out in my head as the one tournament to win in my whole life," he told Sky Sports.
"I'm trying not to think about that, you try to stay level headed on the golf course and so far so good, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now.
"I've got a great team. Everyone has been on their game and the gameplan is working out so far. There is still a quarter of the tournament to go but ultimately it would be a dream come true for me.
"I've dreamt of playing here and of winning here so who knows what can happen tomorrow."
The field is stacked up behind the leaders with Matt Kuchar and Sweden's Jonas Blixt one shot back after rounds of 68 and 71 respectively.
Kuchar made his move with a hat-trick of birdies from the 13th and the luck appeared to be with him when his charging par putt at the 18th was stopped by the hole, albeit staying above ground.
Veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez fired a 66, the lowest round of the week, to reach three under par alongside Rickie Fowler, who was only a shot worse.
Birdies at the third and fifth took the Spaniard to the turn in 34 and the former Ryder Cup player also birdied the 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th and 16th to move right into contention for a first major title.
Fowler made few mistakes and finished strongly, picking up three birdies in the last six holes to be two back.
Westwood in the mix
Lee Westwood finds himself only three off the pace after an unspectacular round of 70 that, as so often, saw numerous putts slip narrowly by the cup.
The 40-year-old nevertheless birdied each of the four par-fives to give himself yet another chance to win a first major title.
He sits alongside Jim Furyk (72) and Thomas Bjorn (73), who blew a good position after finding water at both the 13th and 15th, recording a six on both occasions while giving another shot back at the penultimate hole.
US Open champion Justin Rose is amongst those at one under par, just four back, after a 69 that included an eagle at the 13th, while Ian Poulter was left fuming after dropping two shots late in his round of 70.
Defending champion Adam Scott started the day four behind Watson but quickly back-pedalled after dropping a shot at the first hole.
He then took four from the front edge of the short fourth to slip to level par and he failed to make any headway on the back nine, eventually carding a 76.
Rory McIlroy was sent out with marker Jeff Knox in the opening two-ball and the Augusta member out-scored the double major winner by one with a two-under-par 70.
McIlroy picked up three birdies over the last four holes but was unable to shoot the low score he was looking for to put him back in contention after Friday's 77.