21st July, 2012
Adam Scott shot a two-under par 68 in the third round of the British Open at Royal Lytham on Saturday for a four-stroke lead and a golden opportunity to win a long-overdue first major title.
The 32-year-old Australian firstly overhauled faltering third-round leader and playing partner Brandt Snedeker to move ahead, and then he resisted a charge by a fired-up Tiger Woods.
When the dust had settled, Scott had a handy cushion out in front at 11-under par 199, four strokes clear of Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, who finished strongly for a 67, and Snedeker, who had a 73.
Woods was alone a further stroke back at six under after a 70.
Tied on five under and still in with a chance were 2002 champion Ernie Els from South Africa, who signed for a 68, and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson of the United States with a day’s best 66.
A win for Scott on Sunday would make him the first Australian to win the Open since Greg Norman did so at Royal St George’s in 1993 and it would finally remove any lingering doubts over his big occasion temperament.
Widely regarded as one of the best current players yet to win a major, Scott started the day one shot behind Snedeker after firing rounds of 64 and 67 and while he parred the first six holes with his “stress-free” golf, Snedeker finally proved fallible with his putter.
After 40 bogey-less holes, the American missed a five-footer at the fifth and then had to hit out sideways from a deep pot-bunker at the next, the first trap he had found in the tournament.
The net result of that was that Scott had sole possession of the lead and when he birdied the seventh and eighth and Snedeker bogeyed eight and nine, the Australian suddenly was four strokes clear of the field.
Playing in the group ahead of them, Woods, seeking a 14th major title four years after his memorable win in the US Open at Torrey Pines, was intent on closing the gap on the leaders to give himself a fighting chance on Sunday.
He got off to a miserable start by missing makeable par putts at the first and third, but a monster putt at the sixth and further birdies at the seventh and ninth saw him reach the turn in 33 level with Snedeker at seven under.
He parred his way down the back nine until a bogey at the 15th set him back and dashed the prospect of him joining Scott and Woods’ former caddie, Stevie Williams, in Sunday’s final pairing.
McDowell, who tied for second at last month’s US Open in San Francisco behind Webb Simpson, had an up-and-down round but he had three birdies down the back nine to skip up the leaderboard.
Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald were among the big names to finish their third rounds early and all failed to produce the kind of low scoring that could have put them back in the mix.
World No. 3 Westwood fired a one-over par 71 to stand on four-over 214, No. 2 and 2011 US Open champion McIlroy had a 73 to stand at five over and World No. 1 Donald had a 71 to fall back to one under.
The struggles of Westwood and Donald mean that the once-high hopes that an Englishman would win the Open on home soil for the first time in 43 years have vanished.
In contrast, Royal Lytham is once again proving to be a happy-hunting ground for US golfers with 10 grouped in the first 17.
Whether any of them can reel in Scott on Sunday to make it three wins in a row for Americans here after Tom Lehman in 1996 and David Duval in 2001 remains to be seen.