American Webb Simpson of the United States acknowledges fans on the 18th green in the third round of the Masters at Augusta National

Augusta (United States) (AFP) - Webb Simpson fired an eagle and seven birdies in an eight-under par 64 on Saturday to seize the clubhouse lead in the third round of the Masters as players attacked rain-softened Augusta National.

“There was enough humidity in the air that the greens were softer, more receptive,” said Simpson, the 2012 US Open champion who had a nine-under par total of 207.

“We’re still playing pretty safe at most of these holes, but softer greens around here allows you to go more at it,” added the American.

Simpson was even for the day when he launched a run of four straight birdies at the seventh. An eagle at 13 was followed by a birdie at 14, and he added one more birdie at the par-three 16th.

Surging: American Tony Finau on the way to the early third-round lead in the Masters at Augusta National

American Tony Finau was also making the most of the unusually receptive Augusta, topping the leaderboard at 10-under with four holes to play.

Finau raced up the leaderboard with birdies at the first three holes and seized the lead with a birdie at the sixth followed by his eagle at eight – where his second shot left him a tap-in.

Finau needed just 11 putts to complete his first nine in a record-equalling six-under 30 and he added a birdie at the par-five 13th to get to double-digits under par.

Simpson’s was one of two 64s posted early in the third round – that’s just one shot outside the course record of 63 achieved by Nick Price in 1986 and Greg Norman in 1996.

American Patrick Cantlay had the other 64, collecting eight birdies in a bogey-free effort.

Cantlay didn’t follow the textbook format for a low round at Augusta as he failed to birdie the first three par-fives.

“Yeah, I forgot to birdie the easy holes,” said Cantlay, whose sparkling effort left him on six-under 210 – well back on a jam-packed leaderboard.

American Xander Schauffele was nine-under through nine, and 14-time major champion Tiger Woods was eight-under through 10.

Reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari and reigning US Open and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka – both part of a five-way tie for the lead to start the day – were also eight-under, as was American Rickie Fowler.

Of the other three overnight leaders, South African Louis Oosthuizen remained at seven-under through nine, with Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day seven-under through eight.

- Mistakes cost McIlroy -

Tiger Woods acknowledges fans at the second green of Augusta National in the third round of the Masters

Woods, seeking his first major title since 2008 and his first Masters title since he claimed a fourth green jacket in 2005, was slow to join the birdie bandwagon on Saturday.

One back to start the day, he opened with four straight pars before a bogey at the fifth, then responded with three straight birdies at six, seven and eight.

Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who started the day three shots off the pace, was boosted by back-to-back birdies at the second and third but with one bogey and one birdie in his next nine holes he was four off Finau’s lead with six holes to play.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who started the day seven adrift in his pursuit of a breakthrough Masters win, went the wrong way on moving day.

McIlroy looked to have salvaged his day with an eagle at the par-five 15th followed by a birdie at 16.

But he closed with his fifth bogey of the day in a 71 that left him one-over for the tournament and a long way away from the green jacket that would give him a career Grand Slam.

“I’ve just been making too many mistakes,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been making the birdies, and doing the things that you need to do around here. I just haven’t driven it in the fairway enough to have control going into these greens.”