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Can Scott handle final-round pressure?

Rob Hodgetts | 22:47 UK time, Saturday, 21 July 2012

Pressure will do funny things to a man. Not the real pressure of feeding a family or saving a life but sporting pressure. It's that feeling of being so close and yet so damned far from achieving your dreams. No matter how big or small.

Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDowell and Tiger Woods all have a very real chance of lifting the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham on Sunday.

They share the same dream, but they will all feel the pressure differently.

For Scott, the leader by four, there is the realisation that he could finally uncork the potential that has been bottled up for so long.

The Australian, who was 32 on Monday, won the prestigious Players Championship, often considered the "fifth major", in 2004 and reached a career-high of third in the world rankings in 2007. But though he continued to win tournaments his career never really kicked on.

"He's carrying a lot of expectation on his shoulders," said three-time Open champion Sir Nick Faldo. "Everybody thought he was going to be the next man to step it up but that was a long time ago now."

Scott's renaissance came in 2011, not unconnected to a switch to a long putter, when he tied for second at the Masters behind Charl Schwartzel.

On the face of it, his four-stroke cushion should help calm the nerves, but that brings with it its own stresses, as Rory McIlroy found out last year at Augusta. A stiff breeze is expected on Sunday, too, which could, as McDowell puts it, waken a sleeping giant in the Lytham course.

"The good part is if I play a solid round of golf it will be very hard for the others to beat me and that's all I'm thinking about," said Scott, who has the added bonus of having Woods's former caddie Steve Williams on the bag. "Obviously there are nerves and there is a finish line out there somewhere but through my career I've been able to handle that situation fairly well."

The Adelaide-born, Swiss-based star will play alongside Northern Ireland's McDowell in the final group. The 2010 US Open champion is keen not only to win the Open for its own sake, but also to move into the next bracket - that of multiple major winners - and thus prove he is no one-major wonder.

The 32-year-old also played in the last pair at the US Open last month and finished runner-up to Webb Simpson.

McDowell, who came from three behind when he won the US Open at Pebble Beach, is also striving to win Northern Ireland's fourth major in three years after his own triumph, Rory McIlroy's US Open win in 2011 and Darren Clarke's Open victory 12 months ago.

"I'm sure Adam and myself will be experiencing slightly different emotions but it will all boil down to the same thing - pressure," he said. "It will boil down to being scared, probably of failing more than winning."

Brandt Snedeker, 31, sits at seven under alongside McDowell and is also trying to reach the promised land of major champion. The American has had experience of playing in the final group of a major when he partnered eventual champion Trevor Immelman at the 2008 Masters.

On Friday night, having equalled Nick Faldo's 36-hole scoring record at the Open, he spoke of how was hoping to buck the trend of halfway leaders falling away. At four back he still has a very real chance.

And then there's Tiger Woods. The 36-year-old is in a unique position. Only he can know the stress he feels and the pressure he puts on himself to win a 15th major and first since the 2008 US Open. In many ways it would be his greatest achievement after the scandal, injury and controversy that have surrounded him in recent years.

But Woods is five shots back and has never won a major when trailing going into the final round. New career phase, new first, perhaps?

Ernie Els, six adrift, is, at 42, is nearing the end of his career in the real top flight but still has a point to prove having won the last of his three majors at the 2002 Open. Zach Johnson, alongside Els, is another trying to double his major tally.

But everyone's got a back story, so where do we stop on the list? Paul Lawrie came from 10 behind to win the Open at Carnoustie in 1999.

"Strange things can happen," said five-time Open champion Tom Watson. "Five shots back is usually the number [still in contention] but if the wind blows hard a round of golf under 70 could well jump you up the leaderboard a whole number of spots."

Scott still holds all the aces, time will tell whether his Lytham lead is just a house of cards.


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