KEEPING A LEAD HARDER THAN IT SEEMS
Ernie Els

The year 2012 in golf is one where it seems no one wants to keep the lead on the final day. The tone was set early in the season, when Kyle Stanley blew a 6-stroke lead in San Diego, and the very next week Spencer Levin blew a 7-stroke lead in Phoenix. In the majors, third-round leader Peter Hanson opened the final round with two early bogeys and surrendered the lead to Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson, the eventual champion. In the US Open, the final round pairing of Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell were passed by Webb Simpson.

 

The 2012 Open Championship (it used to be known as the British Open, but in this day and age of semantic precision, this moniker has gone out the window) followed a similar script. An earlier finisher (in this case, Ernie Els) posted a score, while someone in the last group who was leading faltered with late bogeys and lost.. In the end, the script at both the US Open and The Open Championship was very similar.

 

There’s no doubt that entering the final day of a tournament is stressful for many players, even world-class players. Yet, some thrive on this, as witnessed by Tiger Woods’ tremendous record of winning after holding the third-round lead. The great Ben Hogan was once asked, “Would you prefer to be one ahead or one behind entering the final round?” Hogan looked incredulously at his questioner and came back with, “What kind of stupid question is that?”

 

For today’s mortals like Stanley, Levin, Furyk, and now Adam Scott, holding the final round lead did not turn out so well. There is merit to the school of thought that the chaser has nothing to lose, so he plays free and easy, while the leader has everything to lose, so he plays tight and scared. You wouldn’t think the modern player, with all the sport psychologists and other help they employ, and who looks so calm and collected on the outside, would succumb to the pressure, but he does. The key, which is easier said than done, is to make a different game out of it. Rory McIlroy, in his runaway US Open victory in 2011, said his goal was to increase the lead on Sunday. Woods is famous for setting a goal of no bogeys during final rounds when he is leading.

 

The surest way to collapse is to worry about blowing the lead. When a player thinks that way, he usually does.

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