The Big Six was reduced to the Little One.

A stubby little Welshman, Ian Woosnam, rode a string of four consecutive birdies into one-stroke command of the 55th Masters on Saturday and left American hopes resting on the fragile putting stroke of Tom Watson.Woosnam, a member of the group Nick Faldo calls "the Big Six," ripped the Augusta National Golf Club course for six birdies in one 9-hole stretch and put himself into position to extend European domination of this event.

The 5-foot, 41/2-inch Woosnam, twice the European Order of Merit leader and the winner at New Orleans a month ago, completed three rounds in 205, 11 under par and possibly within reach of the Masters scoring record.

That mark, 17-under-par 271, was set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and matched by Ray Floyd in 1976.

Strangely enough, the 51-year-old Nicklaus and the 48-year-old Floyd were among a group of five Americans who were tied for the lead at an early stage of the third round.

About 11/2 hours later, two Europeans were tied for the lead: Woosnam and the talented Jose Maria Olazabal, a 25-year-old Spaniard.

Neither Nicklaus nor Floyd nor Olazabal, nor anyone else, could keep pace with Woosnam's back-nine blitz that completed a 5-under-par 67 and 133 over the last two rounds.

Only Watson, 41, a five-time British Open champion trying to shake the putting jitters, could keep him in sight.

Watson, a slump-ridden non-winner for four long seasons, grimly battled the slopes and undulations of Augusta's greens for a 70 that gave him a 206 total going into the final round.

It was another two strokes back to Olazabal and Lanny Wadkins, 41, tied for third at 208.

Olazabal, who set a scoring record in his spectacular victory in the World Series of Golf last fall, had a string of five consecutive birdies in a round of 69.

Wadkins, who performed a nervous little dance to urge his putts toward the hole, shot 70 in the cloudy, threatening, occasionally showery weather.

Larry Mize, who hasn't won since his 1987 Masters triumph, was alone at 209 after a 66, the best score of the day.

Floyd, whose shot into the water on the second extra hole made him a playoff loser to Faldo here a year ago, fell five strokes off the pace with a 71 that put him at 210 and tied with Ian Baker-Finch and Andrew Magee.

Baker-Finch, an Australian who plays most of his golf on the American tour, shot 69 and Magee moved up with a 68.

Nicklaus, who made a gallant recovery from quadruple-bogey disaster Friday, couldn't do it again.

The only six-time Masters champion missed three-foot putts for par on the ninth hole and for bogey on the 10th. The loss of three shots to par on those two holes "just killed me," he said after a round of par 72.He was tied, deep in the field at 212, with Faldo, the winner of the last two Masters. Faldo moved up with a 67 but, like Nicklaus, was seven behind with 18 holes to play.

"If I play a good round tomorrow, I still have a chance," Nicklaus insisted. But he, and everyone else, will have to have cooperation from Woosnam to do it.

And that seems unlikely.

"He's a terrific player," Nicklaus said of the tough little man who has won 25 tournaments around the world. "He has an excellent attitude; goes about his business and just plays golf."

"He's dealt with pressure many times," Floyd said. "It's not like he's a newcomer. I think he has enough experience to handle it."

Although a relative newcomer to the United States, Woosnam has won in such places as Kapalua and Kenya, Scandanavia and Hong Kong, Paris and Madrid.

He's a full-fledged, although udersized, member of the group that has dominated European - indeed, world - golf in recent years. The others are the Englishman Faldo, Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Olazabal, Bernhard Langer of Germany and Sandy Lyle of Scotland.

Among them, they have won the last three Masters and five of the last eight, along with five of the last seven British Opens.

Now it is Woosnam's turn.

He got into position to win the first of the year's four major golf championships with a birdie burst that began on the 12th hole.

He rolled in a long putt from the back of the green on that one, and leapfrogged into the lead when Watson missed the green and failed on a short par-saving putt, one of those four-footers that have given him so much trouble.

Both birdied the par-5 13th, Woosnam with a magnificent second shot from the pines woods on the right, and the 14th. Watson, however, couldn't match Woosnam's birdie-4 on the 15th and fell two shots behind.

Woosnam's first bogey in 27 holes came on the last hole of the day when he again drove into the woods.

Watson's par cut the margin to one and set up their last-round struggle.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow," Watson said. "This is really going to be fun."