Golf Australia

Scott goes back to the future at Sawgrass

Adam Scott
Adam Scott

Nine years ago Adam Scott signalled his arrival as a big-time player with a fist pump on the 18th green at Sawgrass, home of the PLAYERS Championship.

He was just 23, a wunderkind of the game.

Scott had a swing like Tiger Woods' and the same coach (Butch Harmon).

Greg Norman was his mentor and inspiration; Scott even credited the Shark with winning the tournament for him with a chipping lesson earlier that week.

He had needed to get up-and-down from 30 metres at the last to complete his biggest win, after hitting an awful, tugged six-iron shot into the water that guards the left side of the green. "I think I definitely owe Greg a beer,'' he would say afterward.

Here was the coming of a new star to take on Woods, or so it seemed, and journalists sought out Norman for his opinion. The Shark was not holding back, either. "I think he (Scott) can eclipse all of us. I hope he beats my record everywhere.''

The PLAYERS Championship is no ordinary tournament. A lot of people in golf don't realise that it is regarded as the premier event conducted by the PGA Tour of America, since the US Open is run by the USGA and the Masters by Augusta National Golf Club.

If they had their way, it would be a major.

For now, though, it has to be content with the sobriquet, the ''fifth major'', and by consensus it has the best field, in terms of world rankings, of any tournament. It is also played at the Jacksonville, Florida home of the PGA Tour, and worth a cool $9.5 million in prize money, the richest purse of the season.

So when he sunk that bogey putt for a one-shot win in 2004, Scott was in heady territory. His sixth tournament win as a professional was by far his biggest. "I hope this can kick me on to become a champion like most of the guys who have won this,'' he said. "It takes something to win this tournament.''

Trained observers tipped a quick ascension to greatness, and Norman immediately made the comparison with Woods. “I think right now Adam is technically better than where Tiger was at 23. Obviously he just needs a bit of confidence, a couple of victories under his belt, and he can be doing what Tiger has done in the last 4-5 years. I really, really believe that.''

Of course, history shows that Scott's supposedly natural rise to the top bracket did not happen quickly at all. Around 2009, he virtually lost his game before roaring back to fame, and his victory at Augusta National last month was the climax of his resurgence.

He had made changes, first losing Harmon and then hiring his brother-in-law, Brad Malone, as his coach, and drawing in Steve Williams on his bag.

Then came Augusta, and the double-celebration; the one for the birdie at the 18th with the "Come on, Aussie'' scream, and then another for the curling, three-metre birdie at the second playoff hole to beat Angel Cabrera.

So, fast forward to Thursday night, Australian time, and Scott will walk on to the first tee at Sawgrass as a Masters champion at 32.

His place in his country's sporting history as the first-ever Masters winner is unshakeable.

Even he might not quite have grasped how famous a triumph that it was, coming after so many years of heartbreak for Norman and by extension, for his country. He has done the talk show circuit and enjoyed himself. Now it is back to his business.

Scott has played just five tournaments in America this year, the equal-least of anyone in the top group of Fedex Cup rankings with Steve Stricker, who has said he plans on playing only sporadically.

It is his plan now, for he is focussed on the big ones. He hardly plays before Augusta in April, trying to stay fresh for the majors and the US Tour playoffs in September. It works, too, for in the past eight majors he has five top-10 finishes, including the win at Augusta and a heartbreaking runner-up in the Open Championship at Lytham last year.

His putting is problematical, though not as streaky as it was before Malone convinced him to adopt the broomstick three years ago. He is 77th in strokes gained on the putting statistics this year, scarcely tearing up the greens. But there is no doubt the controversial long putter has helped him; cleaned him up with the short ones. And his ball-striking is peerless, as ever, a thing of wonder.

An anchoring ban will scarcely help his cause. Last year when the R&A was discussing the ban that subsequently was adopted, Scott had an Australasian PGA Tour official take him in to talk to the appropriate people at the British Open Championship.

He set out his case, along the lines that there were more important things for the R&A to look at in golf, notably the distance that the ball flies. He lost the argument but made his point.

Interestingly, Scott told me at the Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes last year that he might well be able to use his broomstick putter without anchoring it.

As it stands, his left hand only barely grazes his chest in the motion of putting. And in any case, the anchoring ban proposed for 2016 has been rejected by the PGA Tour, and for now, Scott can continue to wield that particular weapon.

So on to Sawgrass, home of the famous island green at the 17th, a challenging course and a big event.

Rory and Tiger await his presence now that he has joined the club of major championship winners.

Another chapter begins. We are about to find out precisely how hungry Adam Scott is. And how good he is.

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Golf Australia