Hope for Smith amid early low rounds

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Mexican Abraham Ancer and Thailand's Sadom Kaewkanjana have carded sizzling final-round 65s to show Cameron Smith a low score is out there as the Australian plots a birdie blitz to try to steal the British Open trophy.

Smith's Open dream threatened to turn to despair following a demoralising third round at St Andrews.

Australia's great hope had his two-shot halfway lead reduced to a four-stroke deficit with a rueful one-over-par 73 on Saturday.

Smith's round, full of close shaves and wretched luck, was the equal-worst of any player in the top 20 and left the world No.6 needing to play catch-up on championship Sunday.

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy and Norwegian young gun Viktor Hovland surged past Smith with a pair of 66s to reach 16 under, giving the co-leaders a four-shot buffer over the chasing pack.

Smith teed off with Cameron Young in the second-last group just before midnight on Sunday (AEST) after the American's third-round 71 also left him at 12 under.

No player has ever claimed the Claret Jug from more than four shots back entering the final round in 29 editions of the Open at the home of golf.

Smith likely needs a 65 or better but 13 birdies and an eagle between Ancer and Kaewkanjana plus a 66 from American Tony Finau at least left the Queenslander with hope after his chances appeared to be slipping away on the back nine on Saturday.

Disaster struck when he double bogeyed the par-four 13th to slump five shots behind.

What appeared to be a great drive ran and ran and ran all the way to within a half a metre of a fairway pot.

With no stance, he was forced to play his approach out of the bunker and tugged his ball into heather bush.

He hacked out in anger into more rough on a bank in front of the green, and failed to get up and down.

Smith then needed two more shots to find the green before missing his bogey putt.

But a desperately needed bounce-back birdie on the 15th, coupled with Road Hole trouble for McIlroy on No.17, has kept the Queenslander in the hunt.

Ranked second on the PGA Tour for birdies this year, Smith knows he must reach deep into his bag of tricks to have any hope of claiming the title.

"I love making birdies. I love making putts. That's what I need to go out there and do," he said.

"I need to stay aggressive. Maybe have a slightly different game plan off a couple of tees and just try and make a ton of birdies."

Smith set the tone for his flat round with an uncustomary three-putt bogey on the first hole.

After making an unofficial PGA Tour-record 255 feet worth of putts on Friday, Smith couldn't make his magic wand work in round three.

"The golfing gods weren't with me today. I felt like I hit a lot of good putts with nothing really dropping," Smith said.

"I stuck in there pretty good and I hit the ball pretty good. It's probably actually the best I've hit it all week. Had lots of opportunities, just no putts were dropping which was quite frustrating."

Adam Scott is the only other Australian in with a sniff after a fighting 70 left the former world No.1 seven shots off the pace at nine under in a tie for eighth.

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