AUGUSTA - The Scottie Scheffler coronation parade ran into the bushes early Saturday evening. Literally.

He may still win the Masters come Sunday but after an extended run of excellent play, Scheffler finally showed some vulnerability.

Having led by as many as six strokes and guarding a four-shot lead as he came to the 18th hole, Scheffler performed his worst shot of the week -- if not of his spectacular season -- with a drive deep into a thicket to the left, eventuating in an unplayable lie and a bogey 5 that turned what had been dominant few days into a more interesting proposition.

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Scheffler still managed to break par with 71 to stand at 9-under par but leads Australian Cameron Smith by just three and South Korean Sungjae Im by five heading into the final round. With three victories in his last five events which sent him to the No. 1 world ranking, Scheffler, 25, leads a major championship for the first time after 54 holes. However, a raucous close to his third round -- four bogeys and two birdies in his final seven holes -- did not mesh with near flawless execution of the previous 24 hours.

“I was trying to stay in my own lane,” Scheffler said. “I was playing some good golf and outside of a couple holes on the back nine, I could have had a really great round. But I still had a really good round today. Anything in the red numbers today was going to be solid and I was fortunate to do so.”

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Play resumes with six players within eight shots of the lead. Shane Lowry and Charl Schwartzel are seven shots back while Justin Thomas and Corey Conners stand eight shots off the pace. Im played himself into the top three by shooting 32 on the back while Smith’s 68 was the day’s only round in the 60s. Unlike some players, he was not adverse to keeping track of Scheffler on the leaderboards as often as he could.

“Every hole, every chance there was,” he said. “I believe in just looking at what you need to do. So, yeah, the goal was today to keep making birdies. Scottie was making birdies, so just trying to keep up.”

Under colder (50 degrees) but ever-windy conditions than Friday, only a few players had real early shots at Scheffler and he deflected each as they came at him. Lowry, among the four players who started the day five shots back, shaved the lead to four with a birdie on No. 6, which Scheffler restored with a responding 17-foot birdie putt on No. 7.

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Smith, who opened the day six shots back, appeared to be in business when he birdied No. 15, only to double-bogey the par-3 16 from the right-side bunker. Scheffler dropped a five-footer for birdie after laying up on the par-5 13th and then birdied No. 17 from five feet, maintaining a four-shot lead.

He wound up the only player with three sub-par rounds and carded an amazing 17 birdies.

“He’s making all the momentum putts right now,” Kevin Kisner said earlier in the day. “That’s what we’re all trying to do is make those six, eight-footers for par. This is a place where it kills you with them, six or eight of them a day, and he’s continuing to make them.

“Obviously, he hits it long and straight and makes a lot of putts.”

But the lasting memory of the 18th could not be a comfortable one to go home with. (Scheffler headed off to the practice tee in the darkness after the round.) He said he could feel his pulse rate jump as he approached the shrubbery where his ball had vanished.

“I saw it clip a branch, we’re like, no big deal, just be over there on the left and chip out, whatever,” Scheffler said. “And then we saw the guy with the flag that always finds the balls kind of panicking. I was like, oh, crap, wonder what’s going on here.

“Fortunately they found the ball. And then all I was trying to do was figure out how I was going to get it on the green for my third shot. And fortunately I was able to take an unplayable out of the bush and still have a swing.”

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He played a string 3-iron that ran through the green, but was able to get up-and-down to save bogey.

Tiger Woods, finally showing some strain of 54 arduous holes on his recuperating right leg, shot 78 with three birdies, five bogeys and two double bogeys. It marked his highest score in 93 competition rounds at Augusta National, dating back to his first appearance as an amateur in 1995. Not that he was complaining.

“I had a tough time,” Woods said. “I felt like I didn’t really hit it that bad, but I had four three-putts and a four-putt. I mean, it’s just like I hit a thousand putts out there on the greens today.”

Others fared worse. Kevin Na, who opened at six shots back, shot 79 to fall from contention. Harold Varner, who opened with a pair of 71s in his first major, shot 80.

What had been mostly a one-man show becomes something else with Smith and Scheffler in the final twosome. Smith was a runner-up here two years ago and finished fifth in 2018. Neither has ever won a major.

“Should be a great fight tomorrow,” Scheffler said. “Obviously Cam is a tremendous player, and he’s got a fantastic short game and he’s coming off a huge win at the Players. Both of us are in good form, so I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge of playing with him tomorrow.”