Commentary

Chasing the leaders at Lytham

Updated: July 20, 2012, 5:25 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

Matt Kuchar/Ernie Els/Luke DonaldGetty Images/AP PhotoCould Matt Kuchar, Ernie Els or Luke Donald come out of the pack to win the Open Championship?

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- After 36 holes, the 141st Open Championship is shaping up to be a two-man race between Brandt Snedeker and Adam Scott. Unless the weather helps Royal Lytham & St. Annes put up a defense on the weekend, these players could reach record numbers.

At 6 under, Tiger Woods could jump into the race with a good round Saturday. A three-horse race with the 14-time major champion would make for good drama. But before we bill these three as the exclusive attractions at this seaside resort, let's consider the last time that the Open was held at Lytham.

In 2001, David Duval came from a tie for 35th after two rounds to win by three shots. On Friday, he shot a 73 after an opening-round 69 to fall to even par for the tournament and seven shots back of second-round leader Colin Montgomerie. Then Duval went 10 under par on the weekend.

[+] EnlargeAdam Scott
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesAt 9 under, Adam Scott is in good shape heading into the weekend.
Duval had the worst 36-hole position ever by a major champion. Eventual Open winners have held two of the three worst positions in majors after 36 holes. In 1991 at Royal Birkdale, Ian Baker-Finch went 10 under on the weekend to come back from a T-28 position and four shots to win his only major. In June at the Olympic Club, Webb Simpson was in a tie for 29th and six shots back before shooting 4 under on the weekend to take the U.S. Open.

It would be an incredible story for someone at even par on Friday night to shoot 10 under par on the weekend and take the Claret Jug, yet with Snedeker already at that number after 36 holes, 10 under might not be enough to catch the leaders by Sunday afternoon.

Still, there is a large group of players hoping to replicate Duval's heroic charge from 11 years ago. All the players back in the pack are hoping for a howling wind that keeps the leaders in view.

Tiger, a three-time Open winner, is four shots back of Snedeker after his second straight 67. After his round, Woods tried not to think of the distance that Snedeker and Scott have from the rest of the field.

"I do what I do," he said matter-of-factly.

Sure, his game is all he can control, but Woods should hope that the lead doesn't move too much over the weekend. When Duval was 10 shots back at Lytham in 2001, Montgomerie was 7 under par. On Saturday, the lead fell to 6 under, and Duval had a share of it after a third-round 6-under-par 65.

"I've got a cushion, which is nice," Snedeker said. "I don't have to play the best golf over the next 36 holes. I have to play good golf, but maybe not the best of anybody."

To great extent, Snedeker is right as long as he doesn't shoot 75 on Saturday.

I have a hunch that a few players are licking their chops if he does succumb to the pressure. They are hoping that at least the course curbs his ability to make birdies.

But who are the players who could go crazy low, just in case the leaders don't cooperate? Who might be the Duval of 2012?

Tiger can catch the leaders with his tenacity and willpower to make otherworldly shots, but he is practically on the bumper of the leaders, a few car lengths back. We expect him to make a move.

What about the guys in the next county, such as Jason Dufner (4 under), Matt Kuchar (4 under) Ernie Els (3 under) Steve Stricker (2 under), Luke Donald (2 under) and Zach Johnson (1 under)? With the exception of Els, a past Open champion, all these players have won tournaments in 2012. Anyone of them could mount a charge to catch the leaders. If Snedeker and Scott don't run away with it, we could have a log jam at the top and a big playoff.

In 2001, Duval started his charge on Saturday. He would play better than anyone in the field over the weekend. It's going to take a heroic, masterful effort from these players in the pack to supplant Snedeker and Scott from the top of the leaderboard.