LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England >> The ball tumbled over the edge of a pot bunker and appeared to put Adam Scott in the worst spot he had been all day at the British Open.
All he saw was opportunity.
From the wet sand right of the 17th green, Scott had to clear two more pot bunkers to reach the green, with the flag only five paces from the edge. Scott was thinking about birdie, not trying to save par, so he confidently told caddie Steve Williams, “I can handle this.” The shot came out pure, trickled by the cup and settled a foot away.
The more relevant questions are one round away.
Can he handle a four-shot lead, knowing this is a year when no lead appears safe? Can he handle a leaderboard with four major champions among the top six names, including Tiger Woods? Can he handle the wind that is expected to finally arrive at Royal Lytham & St. Annes?
“I’m just happy to be in this position,” Scott said. “To be honest, I’m really excited about tomorrow.”
Scott has never had a better chance to end his long wait for a major — and he owes much of that to his long putter. He 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 and a four-shot lead over Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker.
It’s the fourth time in the last nine majors that a player had a four-shot lead with one round to go. Rory McIlroy at the 2011 Masters is the only player who didn’t win. Scott has been so steady all week that he has put himself in position to become only the fourth Open champion with all rounds in the 60s.
“It was all pretty solid stuff, considering the circumstances and how much trouble there is on this golf course,” Scott said.
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 McDowell, who had a 67 to get into the final group for the second straight time at a major.
Snedeker, who went from a one-shot lead to a six-shot deficit in seven holes, birdied two of his last three holes to salvage a 73.
Right behind them were three major champions, starting with the guy who has won 14 of them. 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.