Caddie Scott Williams discusses strategy with British Open leader Adam… (Peter Morrison / Associated…)
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — So much was going on at the British Open on Saturday that it was hard to tell whether this was a golf tournament or a mystery novel. The what-ifs were as fascinating as the who-done-its.
The who-done-its were mainly Adam Scott, Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell.
Scott, a handsome and heretofore underachieving Aussie, played with 36-hole leader Brandt Snedeker in the final twosome, caught him quickly as Snedeker's magic-wand putter ran out of batteries, and walked right down the middle of most fairways to a two-under-par 68 and a four-shot lead.
"It was pretty solid stuff," Scott said.
Johnson, the best that Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has to offer, rebounded from a stubbed-toe 74 Friday at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes course and put up the best score of the day with a 66, leaving him six back of Scott.
"I hit some really good shots today," he said, "but I also think I left a few out there."
Another key character was McDowell, whose recent performances have begun to beg the question of just exactly who should be the big-name golfer from Northern Ireland.
While McDowell's younger Portrush buddy, Rory McIlroy — more hair and more groupies — remained well back in the pack with a 73 that left him 16 shots off the lead, McDowell charged with a 67 that got him into Sunday's final group with Scott. A month ago, at theU.S. Open at Olympic in San Francisco, McDowell was in the same position. He had a 20-foot putt on the 72nd hole that would have gotten him into a playoff and given him a shot at a second U.S. Open title. It missed, but McDowell is right back in the big spotlight again.
"This is special for me," he said. "Back-to-back major championships in the last group on Sunday."
Then, there were the players and the story lines that could have been, the what-ifs.
One was the slight faltering of Snedeker, who is a bright and quotable graduate of no less than Vanderbilt University, who had captivated the British press after his 64 Friday and had many poised over keyboards to tap out a fun second chapter.
One angle included Snedeker as another Huck Finn-looking kid, whose early role model was the original Huck Finn golf hero and British Open star, Tom Watson. Another was Snedeker's Nashville roots and his admission he was a country music fan. Fun song titles under consideration included: "I lost my wife and my putter and I miss it."
But five bogeys in seven holes in the middle of his round turned the fun lyrics sour.
Another what-if was Masters champion Bubba Watson. What if he had kept on going after making four birdies in six holes around the turn? Would we get another chance, in a Sunday climactic moment of a major, to see Bubba wrap a shot around six trees or through a storm drain, or over a highway sign?
But a double bogey on the 15th made Watson's walk home more limp than swagger and his 68 left him nine shots back of Scott.
But the best what-if of all, the great drama that might have been, disintegrated when McDowell made a birdie putt on No. 17 to take the spot in the final group opposite Scott. It was perhaps the first time a positive stroke by the popular Irishman drew groans in the media center.
Until that moment, it appeared that Scott would walk the final 18 in the company of Tiger Woods, who just kind of hung around Saturday with his 70, and is in fourth place alone, a shot behind McDowell and Snedeker and a not-insurmountable five behind Scott.
The drama of the Scott-Woods final group was that Scott's caddie is Steve Williams, who was on the bag for Woods for 13 of his 14 major titles and whose split with Woods, in the wake of Woods' marital blowup and disintegrating game, was not pretty.
The announcement of the separation was terse, but the real ugliness exploded in, of all places, Shanghai, in November 2011. The occasion was an annual tour caddie awards party, sponsored by international bank HSBC and held in a tent adjacent to a big hotel. The evening was supposed to be fun, mostly a roast, and journalists invited to attend had to agree that the proceedings would be off the record. Three from the USA were there.
One award went to Williams, a New Zealander who, as Woods' caddie, had become among the highest-paid sports figures in his country. He had been on Scott's bag when Scott won the World Golf Championships event at Firestone three months earlier. Williams had called that victory "my best ever," an obvious jab at Woods, and in his acceptance speech that night in Shanghai, he jabbed much deeper by including a racial slur.
One of the U.S. journalists there that night said that, while the acoustics in the tent were bad, "Everybody kind of stopped and was stunned."
A few days later, a small group of British journalists who had not been on hand heard what happened from other caddies, and, as they were not bound by an off-the-record agreement, wrote the story. The tension, despite Williams' later apology, remains.
In the quick-quote area Saturday after he finished, Woods was asked about playing in the final group — not specifically about Williams. But he obviously knew the genesis of the question and the tone of his dismissal seemed to speak volumes.
"Well, I'm not in it," he said. "So it is what it is."
For golf, it might be best that the Sunday soap opera didn't come to pass.
For people who write columns, bad luck.