• Open Championship

Wind key as G-Mac & chasers hope great Scott blows it

Alex Dimond at Royal Lytham & St Annes July 21, 2012
Adam Scott is not expecting to struggle on Sunday © PA Photos

It's hardly an either/or situation, but it remains the case regardless; No young golfer dreams of taking a four-shot lead into the final round of the Open Championship - but every young player dreams of having a putt to win the famous Claret Jug.

That's the scenario Graeme McDowell is targeting come Sunday evening. Starting a full four shots behind the man he will play with in the final round, Adam Scott, the Northern Irishman is focused on getting himself into a position to strike over the final few holes.

"It's not a direct head-to-head, obviously - there's a lot of quality players just kind of right on my heels," the 2010 US Open champion was keen to point out after his round. "Adam has obviously built a little bit of daylight. It will be a case of keeping your head down for 13 or 14 holes, and just come up for air and see where I'm at and refocus.

"It's really not a head-to-head scenario. I'd like it to be a head-to-head scenario coming down the stretch tomorrow. That would be fun."

Scott, as McDowell eagerly noted, is the one with all the pressure on him, although the Australian insists sleeping on such a significant lead - something a lot of players find difficult to do - will not be a problem for a man who very nearly overslept his Thursday tee-time at the AT&T National three weeks ago.

"Yeah, over-sleeping might actually be the problem," Scott grinned, after the obvious joke was cracked by a member of the press. "Yeah, I don't have a problem sleeping. You can ask anyone who knows me, I can put in some hours."

Getting serious, Scott professed only anticipation ahead of tomorrow's challenge - having never been in such a position before in such a big event (although he has won on six of the eight occasions he has led into the final round): "I'm really excited. It's fun just to get in this position, really. It's what I've been practising for. We'll see if the practice pays off or not.

"I'm sure I'm going to be nervous, but it's good nerves and I'm excited. I'm playing well. I'm looking forward to the round; that's really how I feel. I'm just looking forward to getting out there tomorrow."

Scott, who eventually shot 68 on Saturday to reach 11-under for the tournament, certainly did not appear fazed by the situation he found himself in on Saturday - holing fine putts at the first and third to settle his nerves, before a momentum-saving 30-footer for par at the 10th - but tomorrow is a different day.

After all, his Saturday playing partner, Brandt Snedeker, initially fell apart under the pressure of leading - before rallying in the closing stages once the spotlight had started to shift to belatedly match McDowell's seven-under position.

The course is likely to present a different challenge on Sunday, too - with predictions for winds of up to 30mph during the afternoon. That will provide a challenge in stark contrast to the relatively benign conditions we have seen over the opening three days - and it is that difficulty that the chasing pack hopes will blow Scott back towards them.

"If Adam, goes and shoots level par, I've got to shoot 66, and like I say, that's a tough ask on this golf course," McDowell - who noted that players could have made the Lytham links look "stupid" to this point if the pin positions had not been made so difficult - stated. "But like I say, perhaps we'll need a bit of wind to make that job a little easier for the chasers."

"I'm sure I'm going to be nervous, but it's good nerves and I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the round; that's how I feel."
- Adam Scott

But Scott should be no stranger to windy conditions - Australia may have a enviable climate compared to Fylde, but it has been known to blow on the many famous links Down Under - and the 32-year-old batted back suggestions that he could struggle if conditions change.

"I can hit it high, but my normal ball flight is not very high," Scott said. "If it's very windy, yeah, you've got to bring the ball down a little bit.

"It's been quite incredible, really, how still it's been here for three days. But I think I'll just have to draw back on when I was here last Friday, Saturday and Sunday playing in some windy conditions. Even Monday, Tuesday, as well, to kind of remember the clubs and the shots and how much the wind affects the ball. I might have to make some changes in the style of shots we're hitting.

"But at the start of the week I felt I had a pretty good understanding of how this golf course can be played in all conditions."

Scott may be the front-runner, with McDowell and Snedeker his most likely challengers, but they are not the only three who could end up with the Claret Jug at the end of Sunday's play. If Scott does fall back slightly, then Tiger Woods is lurking at six-under - with former champion Ernie Els (and past Masters winner Zach Johnson) six back at five-under.

Woods struggled for momentum on Saturday - holing a monster putt at the sixth to get his round going, before leaking a shot during an untidy back nine - but seems adamant that he will not err from his game plan to date (two-iron from most tees, slightly conservative approaches) going into the final 18 holes, despite appearing to need to make some sort of move if he is to get that next major he craves.

"Well, I've just got to execute my game plan," Woods said, not for the first time this week. "We'll see what the forecast - I know the forecast is one thing, but let's see what actually happens. But whether the wind blows or not, I've still got to go out there and post the round that I know I need to post and execute my plan."

Graeme McDowell senses he might need an assist from the elements to win © Getty Images

It certainly appears that Scott's fellow professionals do not expect him to crumble. Els said Scott could go on to be the next world No. 1 if he wins this week, while Woods - in what might have been mind games to an extent - suggested that the timing was right for him to make a major breakthrough.

"He's been out here a long time. And he's won a Players Championship, but, you know, I don't think he's really done probably as well as he'd like to in major championships," Tiger said. "He's got a four-shot lead and he's playing really well. He's going for his first major title. So he's in a very good spot."

There is some cause for hope among the chasers, however. Scott was clearly slightly edgy in his post-round press conference on Saturday (compared to his previous two appearances, before finally settling into his rhythm), during which he admitted he was nervous coming to the first tee on Saturday.

Those emotions are likely to be even more acute on Sunday. Fortunately, in Steve Williams he has a caddie with a wealth of majors experience who seems to know what to say to him at every important turn.

"I was nervous going to the tee today, excited but nervous," Scott said, before the subject turned to Williams. "We're getting on really well out there, and he believes in the way I'm going about my business.

"At some point tomorrow, I'm sure there's going to be a time when I'm going to lean on his experience and he's going to have some great advice for me on how to tackle a certain situation. And that's an advantage to have an experienced caddie like Steve."

With his trusty long putter by his side, Scott is ready to go into battle. McDowell and Woods are going to try and make it as difficult as possible for a player who really has remarkably little experience of this sort of situation, but Scott is not intent of giving them much to work with.

With Lytham unlikely to hand out 64s on Sunday - some pins will doubtless be positioned to be birdie-friendly, but strong winds will nullify that 'assistance' very quickly - it has not escaped Scott that he is in a position whereby even a round of 71 will leave his rivals scrambling to make up the required shots.

"No matter what the result, it's going to be an incredible experience for me," Scott said. "I truly believe I can go out and play a great round of golf, no matter what the conditions.

"And like I said, if I do that, then I think that makes it pretty hard for them to catch me."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Alex Dimond Close
Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk