Great Scott: Eagle lifts Australian star into Tour lead

Updated: November 5, 2006, 1:54 AM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- The best shot Adam Scott hit all day wound up in the face of a bunker. His worst shot stopped 2 feet away for an eagle.

Even more surprising was where it led him Saturday in the Tour Championship.

Sobel on Adam Scott
Jason Sobel
On the verge of a Tour Championship victory, young Aussie Adam Scott is making his case to become the world's No. 2-ranked player … or at least a guy who's going to be a superstar for the next 15-20 years.

• To read the rest of Jason Sobel's blog from the Tour Championship, click here.

A thinly struck 3-iron rolled all the way up the slope on the par-5 15th, climbed onto the green and stopped within tap-in range for an eagle that carried him to a 3-under 67 at East Lake. And when Joe Durant bogeyed two of the last three holes, Scott walked off the final green with a three-shot lead over Durant and Vijay Singh.

"Those last five holes were really a big swing in the tournament for me," said Scott, who was at 7-under 203.

But even with a comfortable margin, one look at the leaderboard reminded him that his work is far from finished.

He will play in the final group with Singh, who shot 30 on the back nine on his way to a 65 and was at 206. Singh won at East Lake in 2002, which triggered his rise to No. 1 in the world.

Former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, the No. 2 player in the world and top-ranked player at East Lake, birdied three straight holes down the stretch for a 67 and was at 3-under 207. Also four shots behind was two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who made clutch pars saves on the back nine for a 68.

And don't count out Ernie Els (66) or Luke Donald (69) at 209.

Adam Scott
1. Scott (-7)
T-2. Durant (-4)
T-2. Singh (-4)
T-4. Goosen (-3)
T-4. Furyk (-3)

• For complete scores, click here

For all the talk about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson sitting this one out, there was plenty of star power at East Lake. Five of the top 10 players in the world ranking are among the top eight on the leaderboard.

"Who's not here?" Singh said with a laugh. "I'm here, right? Ernie is here. Furyk is here. The golf tournament is still here."

And there's still a $1.17 million payoff to the winner, and a crystal trophy that Scott is desperate to get. He has played some of his most consistent golf this year and this is his last chance to win on the PGA Tour.

The turnaround started on the 14th hole, when Scott hit wedge to 6 feet for birdie. The surprise came on the next hole.

He was tied for the lead with Durant, in the first cut of rough on the left side of the fairway when he caught his 3-iron thin and slumped his shoulders as it ran up the steep slope. But it kept rolling, and rolling, until it climbed onto the green.

Suddenly, Scott was all smiles as he walked up the fairway, twirling his 3-iron like a drum major.

"I thought it would be short," Scott said. "But it was going where I was aiming. I hit a lot of other great shots that didn't turn out as well. It's unexplainable."

The eagle gave the Australian star the lead, and it got even bigger when Durant bogeyed the next two holes.

"It's a great position to be in," Scott said. "You can see all the great players making a move, creeping up the leaderboard. I've got to keep moving. I really need to knuckle down tomorrow."

Adam Scott
John Amis/AP PhotoAdam Scott hits from the fairway on the eighth hole to take a three-shot lead into the Tour Championship final round.

As pleased as he was with his eagle, Scott was equally impressed closing with three straight pars. And it didn't hurt when Durant missed the 16th green to the left and chipped short, taking bogey, then three-putted the 17th.

"It was probably the best day for scoring as far as wind and temperature," Durant said. "I felt I should have scored better than I did."

The temperatures remained chilly, but enough not to disturb an ice sculpture of the Tudor-styled clubhouse at East Lake. But scoring was at a premium, which was evident early when former British Open champion Ben Curtis shot 66, and other sub-par scores followed.

Els did what he could to get back in the hunt.

Three birdies on the front nine got him back to even par for the tournament, and a 30-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole got his name on the leaderboard. Els was within two shots of the lead with an approach that rolled down to 4 feet at No. 12, but that was the peak of the day. With everyone else making birdies, he knew mistakes had to be kept at a minimum.

And when his approach to the 13th tracked the flag and came up short into a steep collar of rough, Els flipped the iron in disgust. He dropped another shot on the 16th when he missed the green to the left.

"I had a few hiccups, but I'll take a 66," Els said. "Anybody under par has an outside chance. You still need a low one tomorrow."

Singh played in the group behind Els and charged into contention with a round that could have been even better.

He birdied five of his first six holes on the back nine, no putt longer than 15 feet, and missed birdie chances inside 12 feet on the last two holes. Still, his 65 turned him into a contender in the final tournament of the year.

"If I can make some putts tomorrow you never know," Singh said.

One shot behind was Furyk, whose birdie run ended with a slick 25-footer on the 17th that gave him reason to believe he could capture his third title of the year. If nothing else, he all but secured the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average.

Furyk would win because Woods, who played only 15 times this year on the PGA Tour, does not have enough rounds to qualify for the award.

"Obviously, Tiger and Phil are big draws," Furyk said. "But there's a lot of good players here. And a bunch of them are right at the top of the leaderboard. It should be a shootout tomorrow."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press