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Adam Scott flirts with record, goes home with British Open lead

GOLF

Scott uses aggressive approach for a six-under 64, one ahead of three players. Tiger Woods heads an impressive group at 67.

July 19, 2012|By Jeff Shain

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Major championships demand patience, so the maxim goes. Adam Scott might beg to differ, if only for a day.

Ditching the cautious approach by turning up the internal pressure, Scott wound up flirting with the lowest round in a major championship. A six-under-par 64 fell short but was good for a one-shot British Open lead on a day Royal Lytham & St. Annes played more like the local muni.

"It was just like a nice walk in the park," said Scott, who tied Tom Lehman's Royal Lytham record set in 1996. "It was not like what we'd experienced in the practice rounds."

PHOTOS: 2012 British Open

Rain-softened turf and almost imperceptible breezes turned the place that boasts the Open's most impressive collection of champions into a shooting gallery. Even after Scott's flirtation with a 62 unseen in a major, a dozen pursuers were no more than three shots back.

"I've got my work cut out for me the next couple of days," Scott said.

Zach Johnson, winner of last week's John Deere Classic, was one shot back along with Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium and 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland. Brandt Snedeker was two behind.

And at 67 came a platinum collection of major winners: Hall of Famer Ernie Els, Masters champion Bubba Watson, former U.S. Open champions Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy — and Tiger Woods.

"I hit the ball well all day," said Woods, who hit 13 of 14 fairways and completed his front nine in four-under 30 before losing steam. "I was just lacking a little bit of pace on the greens coming home."

Only once before had Woods played nine holes of a major in 30 — the second nine of his opening round in the 1997 Masters, when he captured his first green jacket.

"I look up on the board," Woods said, "and Scotty is going pretty low and so is everyone else."

Scott's 64 was four shots better than his previous best at a British Open. And while conditions certainly were a factor, so was a change of mind-set.

Slow starts in the Masters and U.S. Open left Scott thinking he might have bided his time all the way out of contention. Especially with Royal Lytham ripe to be plucked, Scott and caddie Steve Williams talked about not being so easygoing.

"Play the first hole at the tournament like it's the 72nd and you've got to make [a birdie] to win," Scott said. "Really switch on right from the first tee and not just see how it goes for the first few holes. That was really the difference."

Five birdies in a six-hole stretch got Scott to seven under with two holes remaining. Another birdie combined with a par would have taken him to that elusive 62, but he parred No. 17 and pulled his two-iron tee shot at No. 18 into the long grass left of the fairway, leading to a bogey.

"Tried to be smart and chip out and chip on, but didn't quite hit a good third shot and left myself too much work," Scott said.

Twenty-three men have shot 63 in a major a total of 25 times, last achieved by Steve Stricker in last year's PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. The last 63 in the British Open came two years ago by Rory McIlroy in the first round at St. Andrews.

Phil Mickelson struggled to an opening 73 in which he twice was spotted digging around in the tall grass for a misplaced ball. Darren Clarke, last year's surprise winner at Royal St. George's, bogeyed two of his first three holes and three of his final five to post a 76.

jshain@orlandosentinel.com

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