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For Scott, it's victory or bust

ESPN staff
March 23, 2014 « Praying for Wenger to stay | Test Wayin World Cup »
Adam Scott heads into Sunday's final round with a three shot lead © Getty Images
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The No.1 player in the world at the moment is really that in name only. Tiger Woods holds the distinction, his success in 2013 helping to build a cushion that has slowly eroded as his perch is in peril.

Injury and lack of victories in recent months provided the opening, and here is Adam Scott ready to seize it.

And that is exactly what he needs to do.

Scott admitted as much Saturday after his third-round 71 at Bay Hill gave him a three-stroke advantage heading into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

This is the closest he's ever been to No.1 in the world, a spot he first could have reached two weeks ago at Doral. But Scott didn't contend for victory there, whereas this is his tournament to lose.

And while getting the No.1 ranking is not his ultimate goal, this is not an opportunity he wants to see pass.

"I think I've got to go out and try to win the golf tournament tomorrow," Scott said. "I'm not trying to win the No.1 ranking. I've got a bunch of guys breathing down my neck who all have had nice rounds today and feeling pretty good about the way they're playing going into tomorrow. So I'm going to have to play a pretty sharp round of golf and not open the door at all.

"And if it pans out that I get the No.1 ranking off a win then it will happen. But I'll have to celebrate that later, I guess, if it all pans out that way. But I'm looking to win the golf tournament tomorrow, that's enough motivation for me at this point. It's a great position to be in."

Scott, due to the vagaries of the Official World Golf Ranking, won't go to No.1 on Sunday. A win, however, would put him in position to take over the No.1 spot on the Monday of Masters week, with No.3 Henrik Stenson having a say in the situation when he plays the Houston Open.

Regardless of numerical computations, Scott, 33, needs to win on Sunday. You don't lead this tournament by seven strokes at the halfway point, sniff the No.1 ranking, have the Masters in your sights and then stumble to the finish.

He did allow a bunch of players to have hope, however. He shot 71 on a day when 19 players shot in the 60s, including Keegan Bradley, who pulled within 3 strokes after a 66. Matt Every and Jason Kokrak at just four back, and neither should feel he has much to lose.

For Scott, it's victory or bust.

As he acknowledged, Scott has not been a prolific winner in his PGA Tour career. His Masters victory a year ago was a huge breakthrough and a popular win, but only when he added the Barclays in August did he reach 10 career titles.

"I'm hungry to win," he said. "I just don't think you get the chance that much. There are so many guys playing well. And it's shared around a lot more. I feel like this should be the peak time in my career. And if I only win one tournament in the peak time in my career, it's no different than the rest of my career so far.

"I've got to create these chances more often and I've got to take them more often than I have. I've worked my way back into this position now after four events. And I've got to start closing at a better rate than ever before."

For Scott, that is a brutally honest view, one that not every golfer would admit.

Do you aspire to be the best and distinguish yourself from the rest? Or do you continue along with a very nice career and knock off the occasional victory?

It is amazing to look back at Scott's record, especially given his fanfare. He has 11 international victories as well as 10 on the PGA Tour. But when he won the Barclays last year, it was just the second time in 11 PGA Tour seasons that he managed to win twice in a year. He's never won more than that.

In fact, last year was the first time he's ever won more than twice in a season worldwide.

After winning the Barclays, Scott won twice in his native Australia at the Australian PGA and the Talisker Masters. He then finished second to Rory McIlroy at the Australian Open. Those results, along with Woods' slide so far in 2014 and loss of ranking points from victories a year ago at Torrey Pines, Doral and here at Bay Hill, have closed what once seemed a huge gap in the rankings.

It was a year ago at Bay Hill that Woods won for the third time and ascended to the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2010. With two more victories, he built what looked like a substantial lead on top, but one that appears destined to end after 54 straight weeks on April 7 -- and a total of 677 in his career.

For Woods, it likely doesn't matter much to him if he falls from the top. His attitude has always been that winning takes care of everything. At this point, he'd just like to get healthy and give himself the opportunity to contend again.

Scott, meanwhile, seems to be peaking at just the right time. He has geared his schedule around the majors and noted that being in contention here "is exactly what I need" with his Masters defense coming up.

Considering how well he has played here to this point, and despite letting his lead slip on Saturday, it would be a disappointment to head to Augusta National without a win Sunday.

"When you've got that opportunity you've got to take it," he said.

It's right there for him.

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