Saturday, July 21, 2012 | 7:17 p.m.
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Adam Scott, seeking a first major championship many thought would have come years ago, put himself in position to accomplish the feat after grabbing a four-shot lead to take into the final round of the British Open.
The 31-year-old Aussie who played his collegiate golf at UNLV took the lead from a faltering Brandt Snedeker on the front nine at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, then knocked down a trio of birdies to create some separation on the way to a 2-under-par 68.
He completed three rounds at 11-under 199, falling one stroke short of the Open’s 54-hole scoring record. More importantly, he managed to put some distance between himself and a chase pack full of marquee names.
“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Scott said. “I don’t even want to think about the rest of the guys.”
Graeme McDowell, U.S. Open champion two years ago at Pebble Beach, put on a finishing kick to move to the front of the pursuers. Three birdies in his final six holes completed a 67 and earned the slot alongside Scott in the final pairing.
Snedeker also wound up trailing by four, using a long-distance birdie to salvage a 73 and stay within striking distance.
The Tennessee pro, who matched the Open’s 54-hole scoring record one day earlier, ran his bogey-free streak to 40 holes before crashing hard. Five bogeys in a seven-hole span dropped him as many as six shots off the pace before righting himself at the end.
Tiger Woods found himself five shots back after an even-par 70. The winner of 14 majors — but none in 49 months — fell back with two early bogeys, made it up with three pars by the turn but then flattened out on the back nine.
“I really didn’t make any putts on the back nine,” Woods said. “I hit some good putts, but I hit some bad putts at the same time. I just need to hole a few more putts.”
Ernie Els (68) and Zach Johnson (66) — both major winners — also stayed within arm’s length at 5-under but will need similar rounds to have a chance of catching Scott.
After a week of rain that left some Royal Lytham bunkers still with standing water and squishy turf in general, spotty sunshine broke out along England’s northwest coast. Winds are forecast to pick up for the final round, though accurate forecasts have been rare this week.
“I’ve come to learn you can’t really rely on the weather forecasts around here,” Woods said. “We’ll see what happens.”