Lytham – Brandt Snedeker and Adam Scott comprised the final pairing for Saturday's British Open third round, both anxiously looking over their shoulders at a chasing pack led by Tiger Woods.
American Snedeker was leading the way on 10-under par following rounds of 66 and 64 that equalled the lowest first 36 holes in Open and major championship history. Scott, from Australia, was one shot back after rounds of 64 and 67.
Both have come close at a major before, at the Masters, and both said that they would draw on their past experiences in a bid to hold on to their positions and set the stage for Open glory on Sunday.
The 36-year-old Woods seeks a 15th major title four years after his last win in one of golf's crown jewel tournaments at the 2008
US Open. He set Lytham alight late Friday when he holed his bunker shot for a birdie at the last.
That put him just four strokes off the pace, when a bogey would have pushed him back into the pack at six behind.
His strategy so far has been ultra-conservative, using irons often off the tee to stay clear of the 206 pot bunkers and punitive rain-soaked rough that are the prime defences of the par-70 Royal Lytham and St Annes links.
“It's just patience on a golf course like this. I'm hitting the ball in the fairway, and that's the thing around this golf course, you just have to do that,” he said.
“You can't control it out of the rough here. And obviously the pot bunkers you can't do anything but come out sideways.
“So yeah, you can hit drivers down there, and some guys did. Or you can be more conservative. It allows you to play whatever way you want.”
Woods' partner in the penultimate pairing will be a new one for him in the shape of rising Danish player Thorbjorn Olesen, who sunk a monster putt in the fading light of Friday's second round to bag a date with his childhood idol.
Olesen was on five under for the tournament with Scotland's 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, US world top-tenner Matt Kuchnar, 2010
US champion Graeme McDowell from Northern Ireland, American Jason Dufner and South African hope Thomas Aiken all a further stroke back and still well in contention.
It was an impressive array of international talent and one that Scott is wary off.
“It's a world class leaderboard stacked up a few shots back, and I think no matter what the conditions are tomorrow, one of those guys is going to have a good day and make up ground,” he said after his second round.
“So we certainly have our work cut out, Brandt and myself, to stay ahead of that pack.”
Also still within striking distance at two under was World No. 1 Luke Donald, who was seeking to win his first major title at the age of 34 and in so doing become the first Englishman to win on home soil since Tony Jacklin did so here 43 years ago.
Lee Westwood had similar designs coming into Lytham, but after rounds of 73 and 70, he wrote off his chances and at one over through 12 holes on Saturday, he was consigned to a 58th failure in the majors.
With the sunshine finally bathing the Lancashire coastal layout and no breeze to speak of coming in off the Irish Sea, conditions were ideal for low scoring.
Rickie Fowler showed what was possible with three birdies in seven holes to get back to even for the tournament, but he dropped two at the eighth.
Heading in the other direction were five-time former winner Tom Watson, who was four over after 13 holes, and John Daly, who dropped seven shots in 12 holes. – Sapa-AFP