LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Call it the power of suggestion, gamesmanship, whatever. Graeme McDowell tried to slip a little discomfort into Adam Scott’s dreams Saturday night.
“He’s going to be the guy who’s going to sleep on the lead tonight,” McDowell said. “He’s going to be the guy with all the pressure.”
The even-keeled Aussie with the four-shot lead in the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes wasn’t biting.
“I don’t have a problem sleeping,” Scott said. “You can ask anyone who knows me that I can put in some hours.”
Scott hasn’t shown the slightest hint of restlessness or nerves as he stalks down a major that his sweet swing and temperament have suggested is long overdue. Rounds of 64-67-68 have him poised at 11-under, four shots ahead of McDowell and Brandt Snedeker and five up on Tiger Woods.
Lurking six back are major winners Ernie Els and Zach Johnson. In fact, there are seven major winners among the top 10 on as stacked a leaderboard as you’ll find in a major.
But Scott isn’t sweating – yet.
“I’m really excited for what tomorrow holds,” he said. “No matter what the result, it’s going to be an incredible experience for me. And 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.”
The great equalizer, of course, is wind. For three days at Lytham, wind has only been a rumor. But the forecast finally calls for 15-20 mph breezes with gusts of up to 30 this afternoon. That brings into play the lush rough and 206 bunkers that can turn a four-shot lead into nothing in a hurry.
Everybody but Scott is wishing for the forecasters to finally be right and give them a shot.
“Throw a bit of wind across this course like perhaps they are forecasting, he will have to go and work a lot harder and he will have to go win it,” McDowell said.
Despite the great cast of chasers, there is a building expectation that this is Scott’s time. He’s always possessed a swing any pro would envy, and with a long-putter in his hands he’s corrected the biggest flaw in his game.
“My God, he’s got the best swing in the world, technically,” said Mark Calcavecchia, the 1989 Open champion who is tied for 10th at 2-under along with Masters Tournament champ Bubba Watson and 2010 Open champ Louis Oosthuizen. “I don’t know how he ever plays bad. He’s putting better with the long one. He’s just multitalented. So it’s no surprise, really. Whenever he plays good, it’s like, ‘Well, it’s about time, where has he been?’ I expect him to play good every week.”
Scott already holds big-time victories in the Players and the WGC event at Firestone, and he made a major charge in the 2010 Masters before Charl Schwartzel clipped him for four consecutive closing birdies.
But closing out a major has never been an easy task. Scott could become the 10th consecutive first-time major winner or yield the stage to someone else.
“I’ve got a pretty good record having the lead,” he said. “When I’m in the lead I’m playing well. So I should be confident going into tomorrow playing well. I just need to do all the same stuff I’ve been doing that’s been effective, and it shouldn’t really change just because it’s Sunday. Obviously there’s nerves and there’s a finish line out there somewhere. But throughout my career somehow I’ve been able to handle that situation fairly well most of the time.”
The only better closer in the hunt is Woods, who won all 14 of his majors from the front. Woods failed to gain ground on Saturday and lost a stroke to the lead with an even-par round.
“Well, I turned it around,” was the best Woods could say about his day. “I got off to an awful start and battled back and got myself right back in the mix again going into tomorrow, and I’m right there.”
But it’s McDowell who perhaps poses the biggest threat to Scott’s victory march. The 2010 U.S. Open winner came from a similar position to Dustin Johnson in the last group at Pebble Beach. And McDowell shared the 54-hole lead at Olympic in June only to come up one putt short of forcing a playoff with Webb Simpson.
While McDowell tried to plant nightmares in Scott’s head, he’s got big dream of his own at stake.
“I’m probably not the only man in this field that’s thought about picking the claret jug up, and a few of these guys have had the opportunity to do it a few times,” he said. “But there’s no doubt I can pretty much imagine what it would feel like. I’ve already thought about a few various liquids that I’d like to put in there and taste what they might taste like out of the claret jug.
“But like I say, I’m not the only man that wants this thing tomorrow. And like I say, all I can do is dream big, and I certainly will be dreaming big tonight.”
Somebody is going to wake up and deliver on history. Will it be Scott’s coronation walk? Will it be another Northern Irishman. Or will it rekindle Tiger’s quest to catch Jack Nicklaus?
“I don’t even really want to think about it right now,” said Scott.
Thinking about it won’t make sleeping any easier.