2012 Open Championship final round dartboard: Can Stevie capture his 14th major?!?
By Stephanie Wei under The Open Championship

Tiger fist-pump...for the win?

The last twosome — Graeme McDowell and Adam Scott — has just teed off, but the atmosphere has been buzzing with anticipation here at Royal Lytham &St Annes since early this morning. It’s already been a hectic day with the usual excited nervous energy that comes along with the final round at a major championship. What’s more, look at the names on the leaderboard. We’ve got Adam Scott (and Stevie Williams), Graeme McDowell, Brandt Snedeker, Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Ernie Els in the final three groups.

As we’ve seen with all the dramatic finishes this season, NO LEAD IS SAFE.

When was the last time we saw such an incredible leaderboard through 54 holes? Maybe the 2011 Masters? Meh, I like this one better.

I’m not surprised. Royal Lytham has produced worthy champions in the 10 Opens it has hosted. The winners have either been ranked No. 1 at some point or inducted in the Hall of Fame. In other words, it’s a challenging test, but very fair because it separates the “pretenders” (guys who aren’t playing well) from the contenders. The cream rises to the top! (Ugh, cliche, sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Conditions have been very benign this week — not much wind and surprisingly hardly any rain during tournament play — which is weird for the Open Championship. Good news is that the golfing gods have answered our plea and the wind is finally up! The forecast says it’s blowing at a steady 15-20 mph, with gusts of up to 25-30mph. This could definitely make things a little more interesting.

Heading into Sunday, Scott had a four-shot lead, which has already dwindled to 3 after he bogeyed the opening par-3. Oh, wait, he just threw a dart at the 2nd pin to about three feet. Anyway, I’m sure you’re watching the action.

Sorry I haven’t been around this week, but as you know, I’ve been working for @TheOpen Live, the R&A’s official behind-the-scenes online broadcast, which was aired on theopen.com, livestream.com and the Open app. (Un)fortunately, there are no archives since it’s a livecast, so if you weren’t watching, you missed my “on-camera” debut. And you didn’t miss much. Well, actually, my camera-soap box spots were rather amusing (I’m 5’2″, it just so happens the other two people were 6’0″). It’s been an amazing learning experience and a ton of fun, but I’ll elaborate later.

A few storylines to look out for this afternoon:

*Will we see another first-time major winner? Scott and Snedeker, who is putting his face off, have yet to join the club. We’ve also seen 15 different champs at the last 15 majors. The only name with some sort of shot (a long one) at ending that streak would be Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion golfer of the year.

*The Ernie tease. Els, a three-time major champ, has an excellent record in previous Opens at Royal Lytham. In 1996 he tied for third and in 2001 he was runner-up to David Duval. So I’m not surprised he’s in the mix, but he’s come so close this year so many times. There was the Transitions Championship and the Zurich Classic, where he made costly mistakes in the last few holes. He got into contention at the U.S. Open last month, but then faded away. Everyone is always pulling for Ernie, but it’s tough because it’s so disheartening when we get our hopes up.

In Tampa he had the lead through 69 holes, I showed up on the 16th and he missed a four-footer for birdie. Then he bogeyed the 17th and the 18th. It was rough. After that, his manager started calling me Jjinx” (in an endearing way, of course). I was instructed to stay as far away as possible from Ernie today. I promised I wouldn’t come out and watch, but I had my fingers crossed…and it’s obviously just a joke.

*Can Stevie capture his 14th major to tie Tiger Woods’ record of all-time major victories? Stevie won 13 while caddying for Tiger. He’s also a great frontrunner, as we all know. In all seriousness, Adam is an excellent frontrunner. In the 19 times he’s held the 54-hole lead, he went on to win 14 of them.

*The long putter! If Scott can close out, he’ll be the third in the last four majors to have won playing with a non-traditional putter. That should get the USGA and R&A to start taking a closer look at implementing a rule that says you can’t anchor a putter to your body.


Can Stevie keep up his record as an excellent frontrunner?

*Graeme McDowell. Speaks for himself. A major favorite coming into the week.

*Tiger Woods, another obvious favorite, is trying to win no. 15 and his first major since the U.S. Open in 2008 (and of course, in the post-scandal era).

*Wind stats! Matt Cooper and I looked up how the top six players on the 54-hole leaderboard fare when the wind is blowing at least 20mph. Here’s what we found (for the current season):

  • Adam Scott — 70.3 scoring average; 69.7 adjusted to field and par (the number that is more relevant). The average number of places he’s improved–or dropped in Scott’s case–in the leaderboard is 0.4.
  • Graeme McDowell — 72.5 scoring average; 67.9 adjusted; 2 average number of places he’s improved.
  • Brandt Snedeker — 72.1 scoring average; 69.2 adjusted; 4 average number of places he’s improved.
  • Zach Johnson — 71.2 scoring average; 69.3 adjusted, 7 average number of places he’s improved.
  • Ernie Els — 71.8 scoring average; 69.9 adjusted; 9 average number of places he’s improved.

*One last thing: Zach Johnson, who is now my favorite player and the best guy on Tour (and perhaps that I know) and the 2007 Masters champ. It’s an uncomfortable thing to ask the guys if they’ll do a pre-round on-camera interview. I never do that as working media and yeah, it’s a little awkward when it comes to the weekend. Brandt Snedeker was awesome on Saturday and gave us a few minutes of his time. I caught Zach in the parking lot and convinced him to do a quick hit. Unfortunately, it was a chaotic mess and all the other cameras started coming in.

Yes, I choked, but hey, I was asked to ask him for an interview and at least I made that happen. Still, it’s truly an awful, horrendous feeling (at the same time, it’s just TV, sh*t happens). The other guy I was supposed to try and grab was Bill Haas, who was running late, so he didn’t have time.

To be honest, I thought Bill would do it, but Zach wouldn’t — just because he rarely does pre-round stuff. He’s absolutely the best post-round. Anyway, he’s been very helpful this week…along with a bunch of other players, caddies and managers who knew it was my first time working in TV and all that.

I’m a strong believer in karma, so if this doesn’t (or didn’t) turn out to be their week and they can’t catch Scotty and Stevie, well, my motto is pay it forward.

So, do you think Stevie Scotty will match Tiger’s number of all-time majors? As we know, Snedeker likes to chase and he’s three back of Scott right now…