AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Adam Scott's reign as Masters champion was as good as over after the Australian tumbled down the leaderboard in Saturday's third round.
The fist-pumps and screams of "C'mon Aussie" that marked his breakthrough victory last year were a distant memory as he was unable to conjure up any of that same magic when he won the coveted green jacket.
Saturday was a battle at Augusta National for Scott. He said when he started his title defense that he felt no pressure because he was a champion for life but a cold putter let him down.
His third round of four-over-par 76 saw him fall from equal third at the start of the day to a tie for 16th by the end, leaving him six shots behind the joint leaders, Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth.
Scott said he had not quite given up all hope of winning but conceded he needed to shoot a really low score and hope for luck.
"I'm going to have to come out and play a really good front nine. That's my goal at this point," he said.
"I've just got to look at the front nine, and if I can shoot a few under on the front, you never know what can happen here on the back."
The signs were ominous for Scott from the start when he bogeyed his opening hole. One of the best drivers in the game, he was impressive off the tee, hitting 13 of 18 greens in regulation.
But the flat stick has long been Scott's biggest hurdle and so it was on Saturday. Playing in one of the last groups, when the notoriously fast greens were even more slippery than usual, Scott struggled.
He took 35 putts to complete his round, including three for a double-bogey on the par-three fourth hole, for the equal worst of the 51 players who made the cut.
"I just kind of compounded my mistakes early with a couple three-putts and got me off on the wrong foot today," he said. "And with conditions being so hard when you're on the back foot, this is a very hard course to pull shots in."
The 33-year-old Scott dropped four shots before the turn and although he played better on the back nine, he was unable to make up any lost ground.
He failed to make birdie at any of the long par-fives, jeopardizing not only his chances of retaining but also of reaching the top of the world rankings, needing to finish at least third to overtake the absent Tiger Woods.
"I just fought really hard but I couldn't get any of those early shots back," he said. "I'm disappointed, but a good round tomorrow could go a long, long way.
"It's not the end of the world. There are a lot of people between me and the leaders.
"But, like I said, if I can play a good front nine, anything can happen on the back, and it would be fun to post a number and sit in the clubhouse and watch."
Editing by Gene Cherry