The week began with one of the strongest fields assembled for the Standard Life Loch Lomond – and the sponsors and public have been rewarded with a mouth-watering leaderboard going into the final round at Loch Lomond.
Only two strokes separate eight players of differing ages, experience and pedigrees – but all consumed with the same desire to succeed after a wonderful day’s jostling for position.
The lead is held by three players from overseas – two-time US Open champion, Ernie Els, 1996 Open champion Tom Lehman and Notah Begay III, winner of his last two starts on the US PGA Tour, on 205, eight under par.
One behind those heavyweights are three more big hitters in defending champion Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen of South African and the resurgent Nick Faldo, who has captured the bulk of the headlines this week.
A further stroke off the lead come two golfers from Down Under, teenager Adam Scott, seeking his first professional win and Michael Campbell, a two-time champion on the European Tour this season.
All in all, the stage is set for a sublime final day on the bonnie, bonnie banks as the leaders chase the title and seek that perfect confidence-boost for St.Andrews and the Open next week.
Els, who came close in 1997 when Lehman captured the title, admitted: “It’s a very good leader board with in-form players from both sides of the Atlantic. Anybody on form tomorrow might walk away with it.”
A back nine of 32 for a round of 69 enabled Els to link up at the top with Begay and Lehman, who both shot 68s in each other’s company. Lehman survived a six at the sixth to come home in 33 and commented: “This course I happen to love. It has to be in my top two or three in the world. I feel very comfortable just being here and playing this course. It’s more fun to play than Augusta and ranks right up there with Pebble Beach.”
Begay amused the assembled press corps when asked what he has been doing right this week. The full-blooded native American indian from Albuquerque replied mischieviously: “Not spending any time in jail!” – a reference to his drink driving conviction earlier this year.
He said seriously: “That kind of hindered my game a little. Now I’m playing much smarter golf. Granted, my swing is not the most beautiful thing in the world but I understand it and it holds up.”
The revival of six-time major champion Faldo has been one of the most absorbing stories of a great week’s golf. A round of 70 in tough, blustery conditions confirmed that he is not ready to lie down quietly.
After finishing on a total of 206, he said: “I have a great opportunity. I’m one back and in with a great chance to put my head down, put the blinkers on, play aggressive and try to squeeze some putts in and just put a score up there and see what happens.
“That’s got to be my goal. It depends on the weather but if I could pull off a 66 or something, I feel I can give myself the opportunities to make a score tomorrow. I feel confident a win’s going to come this season. It will be worth going for it just to see what happens.
“I’ve got a free run at these guys and, anyway, I’ve got a good excuse if it doesn’t come off – I’m old and decrepit!”
The sight of Faldo in full cry came as no surprise to Montgomerie, who matched Els’ inward 32 for a round of 68 and a total of 206 after three rounds.
“I am never surprised to see Faldo in contention. He’s a determined character. We all know that. As for myself, I’ve put myself in position which is all I can ask. The job’s done so far – now I have to go out and do it tomorrow.”Final round tee-times