Published July 20, 2013
GULLANE, Scotland – Funny thing, Adam Scott likes this spot even better.
A year ago, Scott took a four-shot lead to the final round of the British Open, only to throw away the claret jug with four straight bogeys at the end. It was a crushing loss, one that earned the Aussie a place among the greatest choke jobs in major championship history.
Well, the sting was softened greatly in April when Scott finally won his first major title with a nerve-racking playoff win over Angel Cabrera, removing any doubts about whether he could deal with the pressure of a high-stakes game.
And, now, Scott goes to the final round at Muirfield as the chaser rather than the chasee.
Scott shot a 1-under 70 on Saturday, quietly keeping himself in contention for his second major title, quietly giving himself a chance to finally get his name on one of golf's most venerable awards — just one line lower than he knows it should've been.
"It's a good feeling to sit here in this position. Absolutely," Scott said. "It's completely different. I go out there tomorrow not carrying the weight of the lead or not having won a major. It's a different feeling. Hopefully I can play enough quality shots to give myself chances to be in the hunt at the end."
On a crusty course that is playing extremely tough despite the un-Scottish-like weather — three straight days of warm, sunny conditions, with a forecast for more of the same Sunday — Scott has yet to shoot in the 60s.
But he's played as solidly as anyone, avoiding the sort of major mistakes that can ruin the entire tournament on one hole.
Scott opened on par with a 71, followed up with a decent-enough 72, and kept himself right in the mix with his best score yet Saturday — a 70 that totaled out to a nice, even 213 — just three strokes behind leader Lee Westwood, with only two other guys between Scott and the top spot on the board.
Scott was trying not to get too far ahead of himself.
"It's a long way off," he said. "The course, it can turn around on you in a heartbeat out there, if you're not careful. I'll be treading cautiously."
While Scott was praised for the gracious way he handled his horrendous defeat at Lytham, it's obvious the pain of that moment has stuck with him. Not even a green jacket can totally erase the sting.
"I haven't thought about the entirety of it at all," he said. "I thought it's best not to. Just take a couple of bits that I wanted to and leave it as an experience. The way I remember it is only a great week. I'm done with that."
He's learned there's no substitute for patience.
While others have raced up — and down — the leaderboard, Scott has stuck to his plan. He's content to make pars, gone for the birdies when the chance presents itself, tried to limit the sort of brutal holes like that one that finished off Martin Laird — a 9 at the par-4 third when he was one shot off the lead Saturday.
Scott's card is remarkably clean through 54 holes: eight birdies, eight bogeys, the rest pars.
"I'm just kind of plodding along at even par for most of the week," he said. "The lead was 6 under early, so I was well off the radar. But the course is playing tougher every day, so I've somehow crept back into it."
It helps having Steve Williams on the bag.
The veteran caddie was there with Tiger Woods for 13 of his major titles. After they had a nasty falling-out, Williams hooked up with Scott and proved to be an invaluable resource helping him get his first.
"His experience is there in these events where par is a good score," Scott said. "He prides himself on keeping his man at par or better, no matter how hard the course is. And we play it in a way according to that. So we're right around the mark. At times when you want to push, he's there to pull the reins in, if need be. He knows it's 72 holes and it can't be won on the sixth on Friday. He's got the big picture in mind when it comes to the 72-hole outcome."
From the looks of things this week, that perspective has certainly rubbed off on Scott.
"Absolutely," he said, "to the point where I think we just walk out there with almost the same mindset now. And it's proven to work, as well. My results have been good the last couple of years with Steve in the big events, and my scoring average has been a lot better."
Maybe the guy at the top of the leaderboard will feel the sort of burden that weighed down Scott a year ago. Westwood has never won a major title, despite being a perennial contender.
Scott doesn't have to worry about that anymore.
"I feel like I've got, well, nothing really to lose and majors to gain," he said. "That's certainly a nice feeling, whereas before in some ways it was getting to the point where you're hoping it was going to happen. It is absolutely a weight off your shoulders to have the first one."
Now, it's time to go back for seconds.
"It would be a fairy tale if that were to happen," he said. "But they do occasionally happen."
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