Course conditions again played favorably in Saturday's third round of the 2013 Scottish Open, as the leaders went low and those who struggled to keep pace were left behind.
Henrik Stenson went low for his second consecutive round, shooting a six-under score of 66 to take a two-stroke lead over the field heading into Sunday's final round. Playing without much resistance from the weather, the leaders found the fairways easy to hit and the greens relatively soft for the third straight day.
Among the quartet of players hanging out in second place is Phil Mickelson, who carded a six-under 66 to stay comfortably in contention. Lefty played perhaps one of the finest days of links golf of his career, avoiding bogeys altogether and spraying six birdies across the Castle Stuart Golf Links course. Now 14-under through three rounds, he should challenge Stenson as the two battle in the final primer for next week's Open Championship.
Day 1 leader John Parry recovered from a frustrating second round, equalling Mickelson's 66 to move into a tie for second place at 14-under. The 25-year-old Englishman is seeking his second European Tour victory, the first coming at the 2010 Vivendi Cup. Parry's most notable accomplishment on the PGA Tour was a surprise run to a tie for 25th at this year's U.S. Open.
Braden Grace and JB Hansen are both hanging out with Parry and Mickelson after having solid performances.
Here is a look at the remainder of Saturday afternoon's leaderboard.
|Pos||Golfer||RD 1||RD 2||RD 3||OVR|
For the full leaderboard, head to EuropeanTour.com.
One of the day's biggest stories was Gareth Maybin, who came from near-obscurity to the thick of things with an eight-under 64 in Round 3. The 32-year-old North Irishman was on fire throughout his round, carding eight birdies and an eagle against just two bogeys. He was six-under through his first eight holes before bogeying the ninth, a hole that gave plenty of leaders trouble in Round 3.
Maybin has never won on the European Tour, but that may change this week.
He's now three strokes behind Stenson at 13-under, tied with Raphael Jacquelin and Peter Uihein, the latter having played in the final group on Saturday.
The two leaders, Uihein and Chris Doak, both struggled a bit with their rounds and shot scores in the 70s. Doak had gone 66-66 through his first two rounds, but he could not keep his cool on the course Saturday. He bogeyed five holes, becoming the only player within five strokes of the lead to go over-par for the day.
That said, the worst round of the say belonged to Lee Slattery, who had gone through the first two rounds six-under and looked prime for a solid performance. The Englishman shot an eight-over score of 80—three strokes worse than any other round on the day—and is now last among players not cut.
What else happened in Saturday's third round? Here's a quick look at some of the most notable developments.
Phil Continues Showing Flashes of Links Improvement
After a wildly inconsistent second round on Friday, there were some fears that Mickelson firmly reverted to his links course woes. The world's eighth-ranked golfer shot a second-round 70, spraying shots all over the course en route to pushing himself out of the top 10. A markedly inconsistent player on the links, it was fair to assume Mickelson's one round of excellence would be just that: one round of excellence.
Saturday proved those suspicions wrong. From the outset, Mickelson looked surprisingly steadfast in his play, opening with some key par saves when errant drives could have done him in. Lefty started the day with a run of seven straight pars, and it looked like another hold-the-fort-down day was coming.
But starting with a birdie on the par-three eighth hole, he went on a torrid run that saw him finish just two strokes behind Stenson. He made four red numbers between holes No. 8 and 12, and he capped his day with two of three to finish out the round.
All of this has to give confidence to Mickelson heading into Muirfield. Unlike the U.S. Open, where the 43-year-old lefty has been close so many times but never gotten over the hump, Mickelson tends to struggle at Open Championships. His career-best finish was a tie for second in 2011 on a Royal St. George's Golf Club course that played better to his strengths.
Mickelson has finished inside the top-10 just twice in his Open Championship career. To contrast, he's been cut double that amount, including last year's event. Yahoo! Sports' Shane Bacon also noted a particular similarity between Mickelson's strong performance at the Scottish Open, juxtaposed with how that translated to his Open Championship result:
Phil Mickelson finished second alone at the '07 Scottish Open. Missed the cut the next week at the British. #philbeingphil— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) July 13, 2013
Past performance obviously doesn't guarantee future results. It's possible that Mickelson found a happy Zen with his links course game over the past 12 months and will come out firing at Muirfield. It's also possible that a chicken will learn to drive a Mercedes. The thing is, we have no idea what will happen.
All we have is anecdotal evidence that points to this being more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come. Mickelson has proved us wrong before; can he do it again next week?
Can Anyone Catch Stenson?
Mickelson is undoubtedly the story that most casual fans will care to watch on Sunday, but he'll be chasing Stenson, who again was in fine form in the third round.
A day after shooting a bogey-less 64 to charge into contention, the 37-year-old Swede carded seven red numbers against just one over-par score to take a two-stroke lead for the tournament. Stenson's day again started out strong, birdieing the first hole and making it through the first six holes at three-under.
He ran into a bit of trouble on the par-four ninth, going over par for the first time on a hole since No. 7 on Thursday. But, as he has all week, Stenson bounced back. Booming the ball off the tee and displaying some surprising consistency with the short stick, he played the links almost as perfectly as you can. There were few notable mistakes after bogeying the ninth, as his combination of length and accuracy made for a breezy back nine.
Stenson carded four birdies, including a three out of four stretch from Nos. 11 through 14, to take a semi-comfortable lead heading into Sunday.
Who will win the 2013 Scottish Open?
The problem with the course playing so favorably is that any number of players could card a really low number and put themselves in contention. There are 10 golfers within four strokes of the lead, with that being the bounds of a reasonable comeback attempt. Mickelson is the most notable name, but Doak and Uihlein have been consistently low this week and Maybin's 64 is enough to put a scare into anyone.
What's more, Stenson's propensity to falter a bit looms large. His putting excellence is a bit of an anomaly; he ranks as a lower-tier putter on the PGA Tour this season. And while he is still a well-respected golfer around the world, it wouldn't be much of a shock to see him card something like a 70 on Sunday as one of his competitors goes breezing past.
Regardless, one more solid round of golf should lock up a win. Course conditions have to ratchet up their difficulty at least somewhat in a final round, which should make a 68 a reasonable winning score for Stenson.
It will just be interesting to see whether or not he'll pull it off.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: