MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Adam Scott wanted to test himself in the pressure of tournament play before the U.S. Open.
The world’s fourth-ranked player might wind up being his own best competition.
Scott has put himself in position to head to Oakmont Country Club as a wire-to-wire winner with a three-stroke lead Saturday through three rounds of the Stanford St. Jude Championship, shooting a 2-under 68 at the stingy TPC Southwind course.
The Australian tried to downplay his lead after three straight rounds in the 60s on a 7,239-yard course where no one has shot better than 66.
“Three shots is nothing really,” Scott said. “That’s a couple-hole turnaround out there. I mean there’s plenty of trouble to get in on this golf course. The pins are in quite difficult positions, and they have been every day. If you get out of position, it’s hard to get back in.
“Three shots is definitely not a big enough lead as far as I’m concerned. It’d be nice to get off to a good start tomorrow and make it hard for them to catch me.”
Scott, the Houston Open winner the week before the Masters, didn’t panic when Brian Gay took advantage of his two bogeys and went up by two strokes. He merely focused on hitting fairways and sticking his irons close to the pins, taking his own two-stroke edge in the span of three holes.
“He’s playing good,” Gay said. “I’ll have to shoot three shots lower than him tomorrow.”
Scott, who shared the first-round lead with Fredrik Jacobson, had to wait until Saturday morning to see if he remained atop the leaderboard. A three-hour rain delay Friday led to a suspension that left 26 players to finish the second round Saturday.
Only Andrew Buckle, a fellow Aussie, had a chance to catch Scott at the end of the second round, and he double-bogeyed his final hole. That left Scott up by a stroke lead after 36 holes. His third-round 68 gave him a 9-under 201 total.
Two-time Memphis winner David Toms shot a 66 and was 6 under along with Gay (70). Toms will be paired with Scott in the final group Sunday but didn’t expect an advantage from fans due to his long association with this event.
“He’s the next superstar if he’s not already,” Toms said. “He’s a nice fellow and good for the game of golf. He’ll be tough. Obviously, he’s won this year already. He played well last week. He’s obviously on a roll right now.”
Woody Austin (67) was 5 under, followed by Brian Davis (68) at 4 under. Jacobson (70), Dean Wilson (66), Will MacKenzie (67), Joe Durant (68) and Brandt Snedeker (69) were 3 under.
John Daly, who overshadowed Scott’s steady performance Friday when he accused his wife of waking him up that morning by attacking him with a steak knife, came in tied for 58th. He shot a 75 and was 74th at 9 over.
Scott had what he called an “indifferent” front nine where he bogeyed twice, letting Gay take a two-stroke lead at 8 under with two birdies over four holes. But Gay drove into the middle of the lake on the par-4 12th, setting up consecutive bogeys.
The Aussie didn’t waste the opportunity.
He birdied Nos. 13, 15 and 16, taking the lead back to himself after hitting an iron within 4 feet on the 13th and holing a 13-footer on 15 to move to 8 under. He birdied the par-5 16th after lipping the edge of the cup from 10 feet for an eagle Scott still wished he hadn’t missed that could have put him at 10 under.
Scott, who has not bogeyed once on the back nine this week, said he would have worried about Gay if he had kept making birdies.
“I was happy to get it together on the back nine after an indifferent front nine but turned it around and played some good golf and had a chance to really make a move with the eagle at 16. Would have been nice, but very happy with the finish anyway,” Scott said.
Toms, who hasn’t finished worse than 10th at the TPC Southwind since 2001, put himself in position to challenge Scott with five birdies and a bogey. He lipped out a 3-footer for birdie on No. 16.
The Shreveport, La., resident who usually has his share of LSU fans cheering him said difficult pin placement mixed with the grain of the Bermuda greens, which replaced the bentgrass after 2004, make putting very difficult. He three-putted No. 7 for bogey.
Toms also came here to tune up for the Open, and he said he is glad to have the chance to win.
“No matter how I play, I feel like I’m on the road to feeling very confident about my game and in good shape going into the U.S. Open, which you need to be because I know it’s going to be a very difficult test up there,” he said.
The par-4 ninth single-handedly knocked Buckle off the pace with a pair of double bogeys hours apart.
The first came with Buckle at 6 under Saturday morning finishing up his second round. Grouped with Gay and Scott in the third, Buckle drove in the right rough and hit his third onto the green only to watch it trickle back within a foot of the water and he couldn’t get up and down.
He finished with a 75 and was at 1 over overall.
Divots: Jose Coceres withdrew after nine holes because of back problems. … Ken Duke had the best front nine Saturday, shooting a 31. The native of Arkadelphia, Ark., bogeyed four of the first five holes on the back nine and finished with a 70 for a 2-over total. … Nathan Green holed a putt from 54 feet for birdie on No. 13. It didn’t help much. He shot a 73 and was tied for 72nd.