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“It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to find out if you have some guts or don’t,” he said. “I could have packed up and gone home today, but I didn’t.”

Scott was becoming a forgotten star until he switched to the long putter in February of last year, and it has been the biggest reason for the turnaround — his runner-up at the Masters last year, winning his first World Golf Championship at Firestone, and now on the cusp of his first major.

It certainly was the key to his third round.

Showing nerves on the opening tee, he hit into a bunker and played a beautiful shot from the back of the wet sand to 8 feet, holing the putt for par. Scott made another par putt from the same distance on the third hole. And in the middle of his run of birdies — including a 30-foot putt on the eighth — he escaped with par on the 10th hole by making one from 18 feet.

“To make a nice putt like that on the first and make par is obviously very settling,” Scott said. “And then to do the same thing on 3, that’s been a hole that I haven’t parred this week. From there on, I was very settled into the round and started hitting fairways and greens.”

He played it safe on the back nine, giving himself a few good looks, but mostly making sure he didn’t get into position for big numbers. The lone scare came on the 17th, when he pushed his approach into a bunker. Scott looked at the lie and figured he might have a chance to make it. He told his caddie, Steve Williams, “I can handle this one.”

The shot came out pure, trickled by the cup and settled a foot away. Scott said Williams told him, “I thought you were going to handle it?”

It was one of several light moments between a player searching for his first major and a caddie who has been around for 13 of them — all with Woods. The anticipation in the final hour was whether Woods could get into the final group for another reunion with Williams, whom he fired last summer.

McDowell took care of that with a late surge, starting with birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th.

“I kind of felt the tournament perhaps slipping away from me a little bit and really had to dig deep for some patience,” McDowell said. “From about the 14th tee onwards, it’s probably about as good as I’ve swung the club all week.”

Snedeker’s bogey-free streak — the longest to start a major championship since at least 1995 — ended with a three-putt from just short of the fifth green, and it spiraled from there. With his ball a foot away from a 4-foot bunker wall, he played back toward the fairway and hit a superb pitch from 40 yards to escape with bogey on the sixth. After that, nothing went his way until the end of the round.

He will be in the penultimate group with Woods, who has rallied to win from five shots behind — but never in a major. It probably would help for the wind to arrive, although Woods is skeptical about the forecast. Perhaps his best chance is for Scott to struggle with his nerves while going for his first major.

“He’s been out here a long time,” said Woods, who once shared a coach (Butch Harmon) with Scott. “And he’s won a Players Championship. I don’t think he’s really done probably as well as he’d like to in major championships. But I think that he’s maturing in his game, and I think over the last year or so he’s really improved his game.”

Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will have to wait to try to win their first major. Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, had a 71 and was 10 shots behind. Westwood played early with Tom Watson and had a 71 to fall 15 shots behind.

It’s all down to Scott, who turned pro a dozen years ago and was billed as the young Australian who swung the club like Woods. This is his best chance, poised to become the first Aussie since Greg Norman in 1993 to get his name on the claret jug.

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