What each contender needs to do (and avoid)

Updated: July 21, 2007, 6:35 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- A little history lesson: Eight years ago this week, at this very location, a man named Paul Lawrie walked off the final green on Saturday having shot rounds of 73-74-76 in the British Open.

Hardly the main story, he wasn't even an afterthought. Lawrie was more like an after-afterthought, well off the radar screen at 10 strokes behind leader Jean Van de Velde.

The next day, Lawrie shot 67, Van de Velde shot 77 and, well, the rest is history as the overlooked Scot won the Claret Jug in a playoff.

It's hardly the only time such an occurrence has happened in golf. At this year's Masters, Zach Johnson was just a face in the crowd after three rounds. He won the next day. At this year's U.S. Open, Angel Cabrera was simply another contender after three rounds. He won, too.

So while many pundits may be ready to hand Sergio Garcia's first major title to him following a stellar round in which he shot a bogey-free 68, we've seen too many of these things to think this one is a done deal.

Garcia leads Steve Stricker by three strokes going into the final round and seven others by six. Here's what each contender needs to do and avoid on Sunday:

Sergio Garcia: 9-under 204.

Garcia
Garcia
Needs to ... make 18 straight pars and then give an acceptance speech. With a three-stroke lead, a Sunday 71 would force Stricker to shoot 68 to reach a playoff or anyone else to shoot 65 or better. He should take his chances with that, which means a healthy dose of tee shots in the fairway, approaches to the middle of greens and solid lag putts should be in the game plan.
Needs to avoid ... calling Van de Velde for advice. Ha. In all honestly, though, the 18th hole has played as the toughest on the course this week. Even if the tee box is moved further back, Garcia has to resist temptation at the last and simply repeat his Saturday strategy of iron off the tee, iron onto the green and two-putt. Even though it was eight years ago, this place has seen enough drama on its final hole to last for a while.

Steve Stricker: 6-under 207.

Stricker
Stricker
Needs to ... put some pressure on the leader early. Stricker made birdie on each of his first three holes in the third round; a similar performance -- with playing partner Garcia looking on, no less -- will make this thing interesting in a hurry. And if he can't do it that early in the round, keep on eye on Nos. 6 and 7, which Stricker has played in a combined 5-under so far this week.
Needs to avoid ... falling apart down the stretch. Or at least failing to maintain momentum. Three times this year -- at the Wachovia Championship, U.S. Open and AT&T National, Stricker has held or shared the final-round lead on the back nine, only to come up 0-for-3. He hasn't won a tournament since 2001, but he needs to believe that he can.

Chris DiMarco: 3-under 210.

DiMarco
DiMarco
Needs to ... keep improving his score at the same rate. DiMarco shot a first-round 74, second-round 70 and third-round 66, which means that ... OK, a final-round 62 -- which would be the lowest score ever in a major championship -- isn't in the cards, but simply keeping pace with another 66 could be good enough.
Needs to avoid ... finding the rough off the tee. DiMarco's increasingly better scores are in direct proportion to the amount of fairways he's hit during each round.

Paul McGinley: 3-under 210.

McGinley
McGinley
Needs to ... stay in the right frame of mind. One day before the Open started, on the advice of friend Padraig Harrington, McGinley began seeing a sports psychologist. Whatever they discussed has worked so far.
Needs to avoid ... putting like he did on Friday. During the first and third rounds -- in which he shot 67 and 68, respectively -- McGinley took only 23 and 26 putts. In Friday's round of 74, he needed 32 putts. If the flatstick stays hot, he'll make more birdies.

Stewart Cink: 3-under 210.

Cink
Cink
Needs to ... remain steady on Carnoustie's fearsome final four holes. So far this week, Cink has played them in a combined 1-over-par, with bogeys on 16 in the first two rounds being the only blemishes. If he plays them in even-par on sunday, Cink should see the rest of the pack back up to him.
Needs to avoid ... missing the fairway off the tee. Strangely enough on this course, which emphasizes accuracy, Cink is T-57 in fairways hit, averaging only 56 percent through three rounds. He'll need to find the short stuff more often in order to consistently have more birdie chances.

Padraig Harrington: 3-under 210.

Harrington
Harrington
Needs to ... have a strategy of which holes he can attack and which he can't prior to the round. Harrington knows Carnoustie as well as -- if not better than -- any other contender, and should be able to think and plot his way around the course.
Needs to avoid ... wanting it too much. Tough to say about anyone in contention, but Harrington needs to play loose. He wants to win this tournament very badly, but remember, he wanted to retain the Ryder Cup in his native Ireland last year, but failed win a single match.

Ernie Els: 3-under 210.

Els
Els
Needs to ... keep rolling the rock as well as he has in the first three rounds. When he's on, the Big Easy is among the world's best putters and it sure seems like he's on right now. Els is currently averaging 1.50 putts per green, ranking T-4 for the week.
Needs to avoid ... the big number. Els' third-round 68 could have easily been a 65 or 66 had it not been for the tee shot he hit O.B. on the par-5 sixth hole that led to triple-bogey.

Paul Broadhurst: 3-under 210.

Broadhurst
Broadhurst
Needs to ... keep flying under the radar. Of all the players in contention, Broadhurst will certainly have the fewest expectations placed on him. Playing in the fourth-to-last group, he has a chance to post a number early.
Needs to avoid ... losing momentum with his iron game. Broadhurst currently ranks T-7 in greens in regulation, hitting 70 percent so far. He'll need to keep that going.

K.J. Choi: 3-under 210.

Choi
Choi
Needs to ... play like he did during the first two rounds. After shooting 69-69, we guessed that Choi just may win this with two more scores of the same number. But following a third-round 72, he'll need to go even lower.
Needs to avoid ... continuing to think about the par-4 18th hole as a par-5. Choi, like many in the field, considers the 499-yard hole to be playing a stroke tougher than the scorecard states, but that hasn't helped matters, as he's carded 5 in each round so far.

The field: 2-under 211 and below.
Needs to ... remember Paul Lawrie. Many of these players may think their chances of winning on Sunday are slim and none, but guys like Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods each hold an advantage over the 1999 champ after 54 holes.
Needs to avoid ... hoping for benign conditions. If you're one of these players, you're hoping for gusting winds, heavy rain and brutal conditions, taking your chances with a score of 68 or 69 while watching every other contender blow up down the stretch.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.