GULLANE, Scotland — Hideki Matsuyama became the second player this year to get a one-shot penalty for the slow play in a major.
It nearly cost Guan Tianlang a weekend at the Masters. It was far more costly to Matsuyama Saturday in the British Open, where he was only three shots out of the lead when he was assessed the penalty on the 17th hole at Muirfield.
His par turned into a bogey, and the 21-year-old Japanese star made a bogey on the 18th for a 1-over 72. Matsuyama was at 3-over 216, six shots behind going into the final round.
The Royal & Ancient said Matsuyama and Johnson Wagner were 15 minutes behind schedule and out of position on the golf course, meaning they were being timed. Matsuyama took more than a minute on a putt at the 15th hole for a warning. The R&A said he took two minutes, 12 seconds to play his second shot out of deep grass on the 17th, leading to the penalty.
Wagner said he supports penalties for slow play — just not in this case.
‘‘Given his position in the tournament, and given the shot he faced on 17 — laying it up out of the fescue over the gorse and pot bunkers — I don’t think he took too long,’’ said Wagner, who had a 73. ‘‘I think he executed a really good shot and under the situation, I think it’s tragic. And I think the R&A should use better judgment.’’
Guan, the 14-year-old from China, also was given two bad times in the second round of the Masters and assessed a one-shot penalty. He still became the youngest player to make the cut in a major.
David Rickman, the R&A’s rules director, said the official with the group gave Matsuyama ample time to cope with the difficulty of the shot. He said Matsuyama walked forward to look at the shot he needed to play, and then back to his ball.
‘‘The timing official allowed all of that to happen before the watch was started,’’ Rickman said. ‘‘So we feel that we were appropriately liberal with the starting of the timing procedure. So I confirmed to both players that I could see no reason to waive that bad time.’’
Mahan has chance
After his disappointing fade down the stretch of the US Open, Hunter Mahan guaranteed he'd be ready the next time he went off in the final pair on the last day of a major.
He won’t have to wait long to prove it.
The Texan left the British Open late Saturday afternoon as one of only three golfers with a red number alongside his name, a good measure of how Muirfield has manhandled the world’s best. Mahan’s 3-under 68 was tied for best round of the day, and left him two strokes behind third-round leader and Sunday playing partner Lee Westwood.
Just a month ago, Mahan found himself in last group with Phil Mickelson at Merion Golf Club, another demanding layout where he strung together one tough par after another, only to fall out of contention with a double bogey at the 15th. He finished tied for fifth and said at the time that experience wouldn’t go to waste.
‘‘Does it help?’’ Mahan said. ‘‘I think it does. Because I think it can be overwhelming at times. Being in the first or second, last groups there, to have everybody following you and seeing all the scores and everything, it can be overwhelming.’’
In good spot
A year ago, Adam Scott took a four-shot lead to the final round of the British Open, only to throw away the claret jug with four straight bogeys at the end. It was a crushing loss, one that earned the Aussie a place among the greatest choke jobs in major championship history.
Well, the sting was softened greatly in April when Scott finally won his first major title with a nerve-racking Masters playoff win over Angel Cabrera, removing any doubts about whether he could deal with the pressure of a high-stakes game.
And, now, Scott goes to the final round at Muirfield as the chaser rather than the chasee.
Scott shot a 1-under 70 Saturday, quietly keeping himself in contention for his second major, giving himself a chance to finally get his name on one of golf’s most venerable awards — just one line lower than he knows it should've been.
‘‘It’s a good feeling to sit here in this position. Absolutely,’’ Scott said. ‘‘It’s completely different. I go out there tomorrow not carrying the weight of the lead or not having won a major. It’s a different feeling. Hopefully I can play enough quality shots to give myself chances to be in the hunt at the end.’’
It helps having Steve Williams on the bag. The veteran caddie was there with Tiger Woods for 13 of his major titles. After they had a nasty falling-out, Williams hooked up with Scott and proved to be an invaluable resource helping him get his first.
‘‘His experience is there in these events where par is a good score,’’ Scott said. “He’s got the big picture in mind when it comes to the 72-hole outcome.’’
Martin Laird was at home in Scotland, closing in on the lead at the British Open when it all went wrong. His mess at Muirfield began with a 2-iron that strayed into nasty, yellow rough right of the third fairway. After a couple of hacks — and a couple of penalty shots — he staggered off with a quintuple-bogey 9. And that wasn’t even the worst of his forgettable Saturday. Walking up the 16th fairway, he was informed an additional shot was being added to his score for failing to alert all the right people when he moved his ball in the rough on the 10th hole to identify it. He ended with an 81 — 12 shots out of the lead . . . Miguel Angel Jimenez went into Saturday with a one-stroke lead. But he plummeted from contention with a 6-over 77.