By Jeff Shain, The Orlando Sentinel –
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Adam Scott ditched the cautious approach so often preached in major championships and wound up flirting with a record, grabbing the British Open lead with a 6-under-par 64 that left him one off the major championship scoring record.
Scott ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch at soft, pliable Royal Lytham to reach 7-under with two holes remaining. Another birdie, combined with a par, would have given him the elusive 62 yet unattained in a major championship.
But the Aussie parred No.17 and pulled his tee shot at No.18 — with a 2-iron — into the long grass left of the fairway to douse his chance at the history books. He still wound up matching the Royal Lytham course record.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t want to go through your mind,” said Scott, who realized he was within striking distance of a 62 as he caught a look at the scoreboard near the 17th tee.
“So I got rid of that (thought) quickly and got on to playing the 17th, but unfortunately dropped one at the last.”
Two dozen men have shot 63s in a major, last achieved by Steve Stricker at last year’s PGA Championship in Atlanta. The last 63 at the British Open came two years ago, when Rory McIlroy did it in the first round at St. Andrews.
After starting the Masters with a 75 and U.S. Open with a 76, Scott decided to take a less conservative mind-set at Royal Lytham.
“Play the first hole at the tournament like it’s the 72nd and you’ve got to make (a) 3 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.”
Zach Johnson, winner of last week’s John Deere Classic, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts and 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie were right on Scott’s shoulder after 65s.
Johnson also had a chance at the scoring record after a birdie at No.16 moved him to 6-under, but he bogeyed the 17th. “Extremely annoyed,” he said. “It was a terrible second shot and obviously an even worse chip.”
There were plenty of red numbers around Royal Lytham & St. Annes, which was left with little defense after early-week rain was followed by a windless opening day. Even the layout’s vaunted bunkers had less bite.
With about 30 golfers still on the course, 36 players were under par.
“It was pretty soft,” said Tiger Woods, who played his front nine in 4-under 30 before settling for a 67. “The wind wasn’t blowing, and we’re backing golf balls up (on the greens). That’s something we just don’t see.”
Woods appeared ready to launch some fireworks, too, after four birdies in his first seven holes. But he couldn’t convert birdie chances at Nos. 8 and 9, cooling off into a run of seven consecutive pars.
Woods then found the tall rough left of the 15th fairway, unable to get back in the fairway on his first swipe. He wound up with a bogey.
“I’m very pleased with what I did,” Woods said. “I just needed to hit the putts a little bit harder. These greens are not quick. With the amount of rain that they’ve had on these things, they’re not very fast.”
Woods was joined by a gold-plated quintet of major winners who finished at 3-under: Hall of Famer Ernie Els (three majors), Masters champion Bubba Watson and former U.S. Open winners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Japan’s Toshinori Muto also crashed the group.
Brandt Snedeker, comeback winner earlier this year at Torrey Pines, was at 4-under with two holes to play.
Darren Clarke, last year’s surprise winner at Royal St. George’s, bogeyed two of his first four holes and three of his final five to post a 76.
Russ Cochran, who gained entry by winning last year’s Senior British Open, took himself out of the lineup with a bad back. Michael Thompson, who tied for second at the U.S. Open, went in his place and shot 74.