Retief Goosen, who led from start to finish to capture the US Open Championship in Tulsa last month, increased his prospects of a reprise in The Scottish Open at Loch Lomond as he stretched his lead to three strokes with 18 holes remaining on a day mercifully free of weather problems.
The 32 year old South African, aiming to succeed his close friend Ernie Els as Loch Lomond’s newest high profile champion, fired a five under par 66 for a 16 under par total of 197 and a three shot advantage over the dynamic young Australian, Adam Scott.
Goosen hit the accelerator from his opening tee shot on Thursday, shooting an opening 62 and followed that up with a 69 and a two stroke halfway lead. In the third round, the calm authority which characterised his performance at Southern Hills was still very much in evidence as he played near flawless golf before signing for a 66.
Scott, who will now play in the final Sunday pairing for the third time in his last four tournaments, stayed in touch with a gutsy 67 for 200, 13 under par, while John Daly’s renaissance continued in the form of a third successive sub-70 round. He matched Goosen’s 66 for 202, a mark he shares with Ireland’s Paul McGinley.
The rest of the top ten reads like a Who’s Who with Darren Clarke and Thomas Björn in a group of four players sharing fifth place on 204 with Jesper Parnevik (205) and Colin Montgomerie (206) occupying ninth and tenth places respectively.
Goosen closed with a birdie three to edge further ahead of Scott, who felt destined never to close the gap after Goosen followed him in for a birdie at the 11th and a eagle at the 13th.
The South African said: “It would be great to win this tournament, to add the Scottish Open to the French, South African and US Open titles I’ve won. It’s a great tournament and it is nice to see they have boosted the prizemoney. It would be good to win with Americans in the field as well.
Goosen, clearly, is in a strong and positive frame of mind, and the arrival of his huge cheque for winning the US Open Championship was also a pleasant bonus. He added: “I am expecting to play well tomorrow and win. I am going to give it my all on every shot and if somebody else comes up and beats me then, well down to him.
“There is going to be a bit of pressure on me and expectations as well, but that is what it’s about now and I’ve got to get used to it.”
Scott looked in danger of slipping too far behind Goosen over an erratic front nine of 36, but he came home in 31 to keep the leader in his sights. He said: “He looked like he was getting away from me a little bit, but I played a really good back nine and had some good saves on two of the last three holes.
“Every time I did something Retief just followed me in. I holed a bunker shot at the 11th and he holed a 50 footer. Then I made my putt for eagle on the 13th and he followed me in as well.”
Scott, 21 on Monday, would love an early birthday present, but he knows that Goosen is the man everyone has to catch. “I really have to go out and play mistake-free golf” he said. “But if he goes out and plays like he did today I don’t think anyone’s going to catch him.”
Daly, a more contented soul these days, enjoyed another good day at the office thanks to a chip in for an eagle two at the ninth – just 24 hours after chipping in there for a birdie.
“I am going to have to go out and play a little better, I think, to catch Goosen. He’s not going to fold but it is good to be playing this week and hopefully I can get a good Sunday round in and go with confidence to the British Open.”
McGinley had five birdies in a tidy card which was marred slightly by a bogey at the 17th, where he knocked his four iron tee shot into a bunker. Otherwise, the Sunningdale-based Irishman is in a strong position tied with Daly for third.
“I am playing very consistently” he admitted. “I just need to go out and play the way I played today. There are birdie chances out there and holes I can attack and holes I have to defend on. If we get the same soft conditions with no wind I would expect the scoring to be red hot.”
Two Swedes scored lowest on a benign day beneath the towering hills and still waters of Loch Lomond. Jesper Parnevik and Mathias Grönberg shot 65s to move to ninth and 15th places respectively. With a few million Ryder Cup points at stake, that was good news for Parnevik who still harbours a belief that he can play his way into Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
“I would love to win this week and qualify on my own but Retief looks pretty much in control of what he’s doing” he observed.
Clarke, winner of the Smurfit European Open from three strokes back last weekend, has a seven stroke deficit to close this time. However the mischievous look on the Irishman’s face after a round of 68 suggested he might go close.
“I would imagine that Goosen is just out of range, but hitting it the way I am I might be able to knock in a few early putts and get it going. The way I am swinging the club I can’t wait to get to Lytham next week.”