Scotland versus England, the jaggy Thistle against the blooming rose.

"He's South African, is he not?" quipped Marc Warren as the Glasgow man looked ahead to his final group pairing with Johannesburg-born Englishman Justin Rose in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.

It has been 15 years since there was a home winner. Warren has the chance to bring it home, though. Two late bogeys, at the 14th and 18th where he found fairway bunkers off the tee, may have taken some of the sheen off another polished performance from the Scot, but he certainly wasn't dwelling on the what-might-have-beens.

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"Playing with a Major champion in the final group of a Scottish Open? This is where you want to be," said the two-time European Tour winner with eager anticipation.

A four-under 67, for a 10-under 203, left him perched at the head of the leaderboard alongside the upwardly mobile Rose, who manoeuvred himself ominously towards the summit with a neatly assembled 66.

It was another exacting day on the robust Balgownie links although, with a couple of tees on the potentially calamitous back nine being shifted forwards, there was perhaps a touch more forgiveness.

There was still no margin for error, though, and many a card continued to be strewn with the debris of sixes, sevens and one or two eights. The leading duo kept the damage to a minimum. On the scoreable front nine, Warren made his move with a brace of birdies on the opening two holes.

With a classy display of poise and control over this rigorous piece of golfing terrain, the former Walker Cup player actually led, albeit briefly, by three strokes through 13 holes having covered it in six under. Balgownie was not going to let him run away with it, though. Neither was Rose. The 33-year-old has a fine pedigree for winning over daunting courses - he has conquered Valderrama, Merion and Congressional down the years - and he stood up to the bountiful challenges of the inward half here at Royal Aberdeen and thrived. His back nine of 31, the best of the day, was illuminated by a trio of birdies at 10, 11 and 12 as he barged his way to the front. He is eight under par for that homeward stretch this week.

Rose is aiming for back-to-back triumphs on different sides of the Atlantic, following his recent victory in the PGA Tour's Quicken Loans National at Congressional. He has certainly got the bit between his teeth.

"My second round at Congressional, and that round of golf here, were probably two of the best rounds I've played all year," said a purposeful Rose, who has actually triumphed on a links course in Scotland before, having won the St Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur back in 1997. "My wins have all been on pretty stout tests. I'd take pride in winning on a links course for sure."

Rose may have a double-whammy of rapid-fire victories in his sights, but Warren is striving to bridge his own title gap that stretches back to 2007, when he won in his own backyard at Gleneagles in the Johnnie Walker Championship. He has had plenty of opportunities to quench that victory drouth over the past couple of years, of course, and he doesn't need reminding of the Scottish Open that slithered from his clutches in 2012 when he led by three shots with four holes to play at Castle Stuart.

He was reminded of it anyway, but Warren has taken a lot from that agonising loss. Today will be another opportunity for redemption. "I think patience is the biggest thing I took from that," he admitted, after finishing a stroke clear of Sweden's Kristoffer Broberg, who continues to cling stubbornly to the coat tails of the leaders. "I think that has stood me in good stead here already this week."

With the weight of expectation on his shoulders, Warren was asked if today's closing round would be the biggest of his career. "No, the final round of the World Cup with Monty breathing down my neck would be," he joked, as he looked back to that 2007 triumph for Scotland in partnership with the formidable Colin Montgomerie.

"Seriously, though, it could be. As I've said before, this is our fifth Major, but hopefully I have 15 or more goes at this so if it happens tomorrow or next year, we'll see. I've been in this situation before so once the gun goes, I'll be ready to do my job."

Broberg, the quiet Swede, stayed in touch with a 68 for 204 while English youngster Tyrell Hatton conjured a tasty back nine of 32, which included a hat-trick of birdies at 12, 13 and 14 en route to a best-of-the-day equalling 66 to move into contention for a maiden European Tour win on 206.

With another Scot, Craig Lee, sharing fifth on 207 alongside joint overnight leader Ricardo Gonzalez, there will be plenty to stir the senses and rouse the passions of those on the other side of the ropes.

Following his ruinous 78 on Friday, Rory McIlroy clambered back up the standings with a tidy 68 which began with a bogey but was smoothed over by a haul of four birdies as he finished on the fringes of the top 10 on 210. Friday's flop aside, this excursion to the north-east coast has been a highly useful exercise ahead of next week's Open. "Of course it has, no doubt at all," confirmed the former world No 1. "I feel much better prepared for it."

Phil Mickelson, the reigning Scottish Open and Open champion, finished a stroke further back on 211 after a 70.