Saturday, August 20, 2011

Westwood, Scott spin their wheels as first major remains elusive

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - One of the reasons we love sports is that the line between greatness and mediocrity is so absolute. In your job, in your life, the lines are blurry and gray; the incompetent clown at your job manages to fail upward while the loyal soldier remains stuck in the mailroom.

Not so in sports, and golf in particular. In golf, there is one line dividing greatness from mediocrity: the majors. Win a major, and your credentials are clear and immortalized. Oh, sure, you can be mediocre and win a major by playing the best golf of your life for four days, but the reverse is never true. You can't achieve true, lasting greatness in golf without hoisting one of those four prized trophies. No debate, no gray lines, no wiggle room whatsoever.

All of which means that guys like Lee Westwood and Adam Scott carry an albatross around their neck the size of the Wanamaker Trophy. Oh, sure, they'll carry on and say all the right and proper things, but make no mistake: this burns, friends. Burns in a way we can't understand, because we don't have our shortcomings and missed opportunities dangling around our necks every time we clock into our jobs.

"It's pretty hard not to realize that I haven't won a major," Scott smiled after his round. "I'd like to. I've played in a lot of them now."

As has Westwood. Between the two of them, they have more than a hundred major appearances and 16 top-10 performances (11 by Westwood), but exactly zero wins. We won't tarnish the names of other, less highly-regarded golfers who've won majors in that span by naming them, but it has to burn both Westwood and Scott to see someone win one of these beauties, then fade into double-digit cut-missing performances just a few years later. (And no, we're not talking about Tiger Woods.)

Days like Saturday, then, have to be insanely frustrating to both men, as both left shots out on the course that they could have socked away as insurance against exactly the kind of charge that Brendan Steele mounted. Scott three-putted from inside four feet, while Westwood couldn't buy a putt. Both men shot rounds of even par, leaving Scott five back and Westwood six back of the leaders.

"Misread a couple, mis-struck a few," Westwood said of his flat-stick afternoon. "And when I hit good ones, they did completely the opposite of what I expected them to do or somehow managed to miss."

Asked what he could do differently to change up his foundering fortunes, Westwood offered up a resigned smile. "I don't know," he said. "Different religion, maybe?"

If he's going to pray to a new deity, he'd better start getting in good now, because neither Westwood nor Scott has much time to waste before starting their charge. They'll tee off well in advance of leaders Steele and Jason Dufner, and with those evil last four holes looming, they'll need to go low early in order to take up residence in those guys' heads before they even tee off.

"You can make up six shots in the last four holes, so yeah, I think you can make up six shots in the last round," Scott said afterward, later adding, "If you've posted a [low] number, it wouldn't be a very comfortable position [for the leader] to be in, standing on the 15th tee with a one-shot lead [over] someone in the clubhouse."

We've known all week that this tournament would come down to the final four holes on Sunday. If Westwood and Scott want to scrub that can't-win-a-major stain off their shirts, they need to start fast, finish strong and hope that nerves tighten up the field as the Georgia shadows grow long on Sunday.

[Full disclosure: that photo is from Abu Dhabi in 2008. The two haven't played together yet this week.]


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