Henrik Stenson will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, with American Phil Mickelson heading the chasing pack in a stellar final grouping.
Stenson posted a superb round of 66 at Castle Stuart Golf Links to move to 16 under par, with Mickelson in hot pursuit after matching the Swede’s effort.
Mickelson was joined in a share of third place on 14 under par by South African Branden Grace (66), Denmark’s JB Hansen (69) and England’s John Parry (66), but all eyes will be on the last group on what is set to be a dramatic final day in Inverness.
Stenson suffered a dramatic slump in fortunes two years ago, but returned to the winners’ enclosure in the SA Open Championship at the end of last year and has been a model of consistency this term.
The 37 year old has made the cut in all nine of his appearances on The European Tour so far this season and, following his tied tenth finish in Munich recently, feels he is ready to win again.
Stenson said: “I love going into the last day with a two shot lead, I’ve always been keen on being in front rather than being one behind, because it just means the other guy is going to have to play better than I do.
“So if I can put a good round together, they are going to have to do something special to beat me. I’m in a good spot, and I’m very happy with the way I’ve played.”
Mickelson was equally delighted with a display which puts him in contention to seal his first victory in a regular European Tour event.
The American said: “The last 11 holes were a lot of fun for me to play. I really got started on number eight, hit a good shot in there, made birdie and then birdied nine and 10, which really got me going. So I’ve put myself in a good position for tomorrow’s final round, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Mickelson said the key to his week has been superb driving. He’s been absolutely flushing the ball and he’s excited about how his game is shaping up just before the Open Championship.
“Off the tee has been a real strength for me, and crosswinds, it’s historically given me problems, and I’ve kept the ball in play, I think as well as I ever have. This has been nice. I know the fairways are generous and wide but they don’t play wide because they are so firm with the crosswinds and whatnot. I felt like putting the ball into play has allowed me to a play aggressively into the greens.
“My game is starting to feel good. I’m starting to feel much better on the greens, and I’m starting to get my touch better around the greens – much better than on Thursday when we started.”
Phil’s record at the Open Championship compared is mediocre at best compared to how he’s fared at the other three majors. His struggles with links golf are no secret.
In 19 starts in the Open, he’s only placed in the top five twice, one of which was at the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s where he was in contention and missed several short putts coming down the stretch.
Now, it’s not the same, but winning the Scottish Open on a links course would be a nice addition to Phil’s already-impressive resume, and perhaps it would give him the boost of confidence he needs to get him over the hump to finally contend regularly at the Open Championship.
But Phil says, hold up, guys! — there’s still 18 holes to play at Castle Stuart with a packed leaderboard, no less.
“Well, we are getting ahead of ourselves thinking about the win,” said Mickelson, who will tee off at 3:25pm GMT on Sunday. “We have a shootout tomorrow. There’s ten to 20 guys that are right there within a couple of the lead, and tomorrow we are all going to have to shoot a low round.
“And for me to finish tomorrow the way I want, I’m going to have to get off to a better start than I did today. I fought hard and made some birdies the last 11 holes to get in position but tomorrow I’m going to have to get off to a better start so I don’t put so much pressure on me to have that late surge. Right now, tomorrow, there’s a lot of guys that have a chance.”
Grace, who won four titles in a stellar season on The European Tour last year, could be the man to pose the biggest threat to Mickelson and Stenson. The South African is a self-confesses lover of links golf, having learned to play the game at Fancourt, and his shot-making skills were again to the fore in a seven birdie round of 66.
He said: “I had my second win last year at Fancourt Links, the links is just in me for some reason, and then obviously I won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last year. I just feel very comfortable out there. I’m the type of guy who likes to visualise a lot of shots, and you need that around a links course. It’s just working out so far.”
[Ed Note: This report was provided by the European Tour and any alterations were made with WUP’s editorial discretion.]