LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England
Adam Scott has never had a better chance to end that long wait for a major championship — mostly because of that long putter.
Scott stayed in the game early with two key par saves, pulled away with three birdies around the turn and was solid at the end Saturday for a 2-under 68 that gave him a four-shot lead going into the final round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
“It was all pretty solid stuff, considering the circumstances and how much trouble there is on this golf course,” Scott said.
The golf course, even without wind for three days, swallowed up Brandt Snedeker during a 10-hole stretch in the middle of the round and nearly knocked him out of contention.
This is the fourth time in the last nine majors that someone took at least a four-shot lead into the final round. The only player who failed to win was Rory McIlroy at the Masters in 2011.
But this Open was far from over.
Scott narrowly missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have given him a share of the 54-hole Open scoring record. He settled for 11-under 199 and will play in the final group with Graeme McDowell, who had a 67 to get into the final group for the second straight time at a major.
Snedeker birdied two of his last three holes to salvage a 73 and was tied with McDowell.
Right behind them were three major champions, starting with the guy who has won 14 of them. Tiger Woods recovered from a sloppy start and was within three shots of the lead on the front nine until Scott pulled away. Woods missed a short par putt on the 15th and didn’t give himself many good looks at birdie on the back nine for a 70, leaving him five shots behind. Woods has never won a major when trailing going into the last round.
Three-time major champion Ernie Els was solid in his round of 68 and was six back, along with former Masters champion Zach Johnson, who had a 66.
Even so, the biggest challenge might be the weather. If the forecast holds true — and there’s been no reason to believe that — the greatest defense of links golf could finally arrive with wind projected to gust up to 25 mph.
“It will be in Adam’s hands tomorrow if the conditions are as straightforward as they have been the last few days,” McDowell said. “Throw a bit of wind across this course like perhaps they are forecasting, he will have to go and work a lot harder and he will have to go win it.
“He’s going to have to go win it anyway, for sure.”
McDowell was seven shots behind as he walked up to the 13th green and found three birdies coming in to get into the last group, just as he was at Olympic Club last month in the U.S. Open, where he was one putt away from forcing a playoff.
Snedeker opened this championship by playing 40 holes without a bogey, and then he couldn’t buy a par. He had to blast backward out of a bunker, chunked a pitch shot from the fairway, missed short putts and was reeling. He started with a one-shot lead and was six shots behind after only 11 holes. Snedeker rolled in a birdie on the 16th and stretched out his arms in mock wonder, and then finished with a birdie that could bode well for Sunday.
“It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to find out if you have some guts or don’t,” he said. “I could have packed up and gone home today, but I didn’t.”