Nice guy can finish first
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Adam Scott couldn't say it with a straight face. He couldn't describe how today he will be as ruthless as it takes to win The Players Championship without a smile lighting up that nice-guy baby-face.
"I'll be ready to go," Scott said after shooting a 69 to assume a two-shot lead to sleep on before today's final round.
"I'll be Mr. Tough Guy."
At 23, the Australian star who does Tiger Woods' golf swing better than Tiger himself may indeed have the heart of Tony Soprano, but with that choirboy look, it's a real tough sell.
In many ways, the final round will be Scott's introduction to the position he is expected to occupy in the professional realm for the next 20 years or so.
He is the best of Generation Next in the golf world and has waited longer than most had expected to contend in a major golf event. Most of the important ingredients are obvious: A great swing, superior intelligence, a reverence and respect for the game.
The only remaining question is if he has the true grit to whip himself into the winner's circle in the big races.
"He's a classy kid," said Phil Mickelson, who quickly amended that statement. "He's not a kid, he's a classy individual.
"I think that maybe the people around him, the players and others, have recognized his talent level before even he realized it himself."
This may not be a major in the sense of the Masters et al, but it's hard to tell the difference.
"There are at least 1.4 (million) very important things about this tournament," Mickelson said, referring to the largest first-prize in golf. "From a player's point of view this is just as important as any of the four majors."
Sunday pressure at a big tournament on a brutally demanding layout such as Sawgrass, pursued by a who's-who of his profession, is something Scott never has faced. He understands that and relishes the opportunity to experience it, to soak it up.
All skeptics should be aware that he had plenty of chances to wilt yesterday and handled the pressure like a walk in the park. He hit one bold shot after another and on the rare occasions when he made a mis-step, he covered his tracks with creative, precise work around the greens.
On a golf course acknowledged to have the toughest stretch of finishing holes on the PGA Tour, Scott came home with seven consecutive pars to finish his round, never once relinquishing the outright lead during that time.
He acknowledges that today will be as much a psychological hurdle as a physical one. He knows he has the talent. He has won tournaments before and defended leads successfully, just never at this level.
"I think I'd feel more comfortable hanging around these guys -- Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Davis Love -- if I were to win a big event," he said. "It's tough when you first come out here when for the past 10 years you've watched these guys on TV and they're almost golfing heroes to you."
But he has been around a couple of years now, experiencing just how cut-throat the business he has chosen as his life's work can be. He understands that when he has an opponent flat on his back, he must put his foot on his throat.
He promises he'll be a big ol' ball of hate today.
"I think it's an inner thing," Scott said. "Some of my experiences over the past year have showed me how these big guys have that fire burning inside them just to squash everybody else out there.
"I think you have to have that or they'll do it to you. I'll be ready."
Either that, or the pack will track him down, rip out his heart and roll right over him in a mad dash to the finish line, without so much as a backwards glance.
But don't count on that happening. He might be the kid you dream your daughter will marry, or he might be a heartless assassin. Or maybe he's both.