They hired 300 sheep a century ago to chew down underbrush covering the sand dunes that became Troon Golf Club. Turns out the sheep missed some, for in comic ineptitude today the British Open golfers sent the cursed white pellets streaking into gorse, whins, heather, knee-high grass and Dolly Parton's wig.

Bobby Clampett still leads. After his 78 today he leads by one shot, not Friday's five, nor today's seven after five holes.

"It was very close to a good round," Clampett said, stretching credulity from here to Loch Ness. "But the way things happened, it could've been an 85, too. I made some nice saves to keep it respectable. And I am still in the lead."

As to the efficacy of Clampett's work today, consider it in the context of Tom Watson's 74. The 74 mightily irritated the U.S. Open champion, who is looking for a fourth British Open title. Bad putting, Watson said. Not aggressive enough, he said.

Under normal circumstances, with a first-class field playing moderately well, Watson's indifferent round would have left him up the road, dust settling on his freckles. But in this British Open, with collars growing tighter by the minute on front-runners who think winning the Swiss Open is a big deal, Watson shot 74 and gained four shots on the leader.

"I still can win," Watson said, amazed.

Clampett had a triple-bogey 8, and didn't have a birdie putt from the sixth to the 13th hole. And he still leads with five-under-par 211.

Clampett enters Sunday's last round with a one-shot lead over South African Nick Price, who had 74 today and was the only player in the last 28 off the tee to play Troon's carnivorous last nine holes in par.

Two shots behind Clampett are Sandy Lyle (73), a Scottish pro, and Irishman Des Smyth (74). Three shots behind is Watson, a stroke in front of Englishman Peter Oosterhuis (74) and Japan's Masahiro Kuramoto (71), one of only four players to break par of 72 this round.

So instead of Clampett coasting to victory, a stampede of contenders is rumbling beyond the sand dunes. After his opening 67-66 rounds, Clampett had only 10 players within 10 shots of him; now the 10-shot line includes 27.

Even Jack Nicklaus, after 77-70-72, is in contention. A 64 would move him to five under par, likely good enough to win. On second thought, anything under par may win.

This looked like a safari today. Everytime you looked up, another hunter marched into the bush with his bearer carrying the weapons.

Clampett didn't wear his plus-twos, saving them for Sunday probably, but neither did he wear the khakis of most jungle explorers. Clampett didn't hit a fairway for hours, put one shot into a bush, locked another in gorse-jail and visited three sand traps on the sixth hole alone. There he made his triple-bogey 8 after successive birdies at the fourth and fifth holes.

Clampett made a bogey at the first hole when his three-iron shot somehow traveled 260 yards into a fairway bunker. This should have told Clampett the fairways were hard and dry and that the wind at his back would make it difficult indeed to keep tee shots on the undulating fairways of a links course as deceitful as any.

He reached the 556-yard fourth with a five-iron second shot, so generous was the wind, and two-putted for his first birdie. At the fifth, a six-iron shot rolled through the green--another indication the course was physically hard and growing faster. But from 40 feet, Clampett rolled in the putt for another birdie.

This put him 12 under par, seven shots ahead of anybody. It also caused him to think the unthinkable. "I felt after that long putt at five that, 'Here we go,' " Clampett said.

"I've run away with tournaments before, and I thought I'd run away with this one."

The gods of golf instantly strike down anyone so arrogant as to think he has the game figured out. Clampett won college tournaments by 11, 12 and 13 shots, but in two seasons as a pro he hasn't won a thing, let alone the British Open on a classic course. Which explains why his tee shot at the 577-yard sixth hooked into a pot bunker with a four-foot-high face.

Clampett wanted to advance the ball 120 yards so he could reach the green with a third shot. His wedge shot clipped the high lip, though, and the ball plopped into another bunker 20 yards ahead. From there, he again hit the lip and dribbled 20 yards, leaving him 270 to the green. His fourth shot hooked into tangled undergrowth, short, from where Clampett blooped a pitch into a greenside trap. He made it safely out, finally two-putting.

"That wasn't much fun," a chastened Campett said later.

Fully 27 of 88 players shot 40 or more today on the 3,645 yards of Troon's into-the-wind last nine holes. Bogeys at 10, 11, 13 and 15 made Clampett one of the unfortunates.