Originally created 03/28/04

Great Scott! Aussie bids to become youngest Players champion



PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Adam Scott used to sit in the back of a golf shop in Australia and watch countless video replays of his idol, Greg Norman, winning The Players Championship with a record score 10 years ago.

Little good that will do him now.

Scott is hardly headed for a runaway victory. Despite a solid 3-under 69 to build a two-shot lead, he doubts it will be there when he gets to the first tee Sunday.

Not with Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Kenny Perry - even Tiger Woods - trying to chase him down on one of the most frightening tracks in golf.

"I can't let my guard down for one minute," Scott said.

Scott made three straight birdies to take the lead Saturday at Sawgrass, then made no mistakes on the treacherous closing holes to take the lead into a final round that should be as entertaining as the golf course.

Scott was at 10-under 206, but 19 players were within six shots of the lead.

"I'm far from winning the event," Scott said. "There's a full leaderboard of the best players behind me."

Frank Lickliter, who lives on the TPC at Sawgrass, closed with three straight birdies for a 68.

He was joined at 8-under 208 by Kevin Sutherland, a co-leader going into the second round, who scratched out a 73 despite a bad ruling that led to a bogey on the par-5 16th.

Another shot back was a large group that included Els (72), Perry (69) and Mickelson (72), who made another solid recovery on the 18th to save par. Singh (72) was right behind, along with Craig Parry, whose 8-under 64 showed that anything goes at any time in this tournament.

Parry made the cut on the number. Playing early in slightly softer conditions, he had two eagles and six birdies in his round of 64 and now joins a long list of players chasing the $1.4 million prize in the PGA Tour's richest event.

Add the world's No. 1 player to the mix.

Woods wasted a great round - and two valuable strokes - when he hit a 7-iron into the bleachers on the 18th hole to cap off a bogey-bogey finish for a 68.

Still, he was six shots behind in a tie for 16th, a strong improvement from the bottom of the pack two days ago and very much in the mix on this thrill-a-minute Stadium Course at Sawgrass.

"A lot of things can happen on his golf course, as we have all seen," Woods said. "You can shoot low rounds, and you can shoot high ones."

Norman won in '94 by making only one bogey all week on a soft course and winning by four shots at 24-under 264.

"I like to know how he shot that," Scott said.

Scott didn't have the lowest round Saturday, but it sure felt like it. He was the only player in the final five groups to break 70 as a blazing sun continued to bake out the greens, and deceptive breezes toyed with the minds.

Imagine how it will be Sunday afternoon.

"I'm three shots behind," Els said. "But on this golf course, you can make that up in a hurry."

Scott was two shots behind when he made the turn, but he holed a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 10, two-putted for birdie on the par-5 11th and then spun his wedge back to 4 feet for birdie on No. 12.

That gave him the lead, and it held when Sutherland stopped making a few putts, then got a bad break on No. 16.

He laid up 105 yards from the hole, just beyond a divot with a patch of sand behind his ball. Sutherland said he was told he could not ground his club, because that would improve his lie.

Holding the sand wedge above his ball, he left it well short into thick grass, from where he hacked out to 25 feet and took a bogey. Only when he was signing his card was he told he could have lightly placed his club on the ground.

"It would have made the shot easier," Sutherland said. "I guess I wasn't able to articulate the ruling."

One thing is clear - this should be another thrilling conclusion to golf's fifth major.

Scott, a 23-year-old Aussie, has a chance to become the youngest winner of The Players Championship, and the composure he has shown all week indicates he's up to the task.

Not only does he swing like Woods, all five of Scott's worldwide victories have come from in the lead.

Mickelson also is putting on quite a show, with birdies from unlikely places, and a grudging acceptance of bogey if he gets himself in too much trouble. Such was the case on No. 18, when he chose to lay up short of the green instead of risking a shot out of the rough that could have gone left in the water, or right in the shaggy mounds.

He wound up saving par from 10 feet.

"I'm most proud that I accepted precarious situations today, took bogeys and moved on," Mickelson said.

He only got greedy thinking about the final round.

"I know that I have a chance," Mickelson said. "It's going to be a fun day for all the guys at the top. There are about 20 guys who have a shot, and I'm one of them."

For some guys, Sunday is about more than money. Paul Stankowski (66 for 7-under 209), Sutherland and Lickliter all must win to qualify for the Masters.

Woods looked like he might be so much closer to the lead. Short birdies on the 12th and 13th put him at 6 under, and he was closing in on the lead, even though the leaders were still on the range.

But it fell apart quickly.

He came up short on No. 17 - still on land, though - and chipped short to take bogey. He was between clubs on the closing hole, felt the wind shift at the top of his swing and tried to ease off his 7-iron. Instead, he flared it well to the right, three rows into the bleachers and got a free drop on the side of the hill.

"I was right there," Woods said.

He still is - but so is everyone else.