Adam Scott comes of age at Players Championship
When Adam Scott was 13 years old and as rail thin as a 1-iron, he’d lose entire afternoons at Royal Queensland Golf Club along Australia’s Gold Coast hidden away in a back room at the club, viewing a stack of videos as his matinee idol, Greg Norman, took him to far-away championships at far-away courses he’d only dreamed of playing.
“I’d watch all the great rounds Greg played,” Scott said. “If I’d walk into the shop and the Masters was on, I’d find myself sitting there watching for a half-hour. I loved it. I looked at it as a chance to learn; I’d look at those guys and imagine being in those situations. I watched how they handled themselves out there.”
A decade later, Scott, now 23, found himself in his own precarious “situation” March 28, as he came painfully close to snatching defeat from the jaws of a sure victory at The Players Championship. In a matter of seconds – in the instant it takes to pull-hook a 6-iron (gasp!) into a lake at the par-4 finishing hole – Scott had gone from cruising to his most prestigious title to possibly throwing it away, and now he had to find a way to gather his wits to avoid a potential playoff against red-hot Irishman Padraig Harrington.
No worries, mate. Facing a drop just a few yards off the front of the 18th green, he turned to his veteran Scottish caddie, Alastair McLean, and said, “C’mon, it’s just a chip and a putt.”
Using a technique taught to him only four days earlier by Norman, now his mentor and friend, Scott covered 80 of the 90 feet between him and the flagstick with a deft running pitch. He was absolute money on the putt, saving bogey-5 to tidy up a closing 70 for a one-shot, double fist-pump victory over the fast-charging Harrington, who had finished with six 3s and a blazing 6-under 30 on the incoming nine. For Scott, who picked up a winner’s check of $1.44 million from a purse of $8 million, it was the title that proved priceless, placing his name alongside such winners as Nicklaus, Trevino and yes, even his idol, Norman.
“His composure, he’s almost unflappable,” McLean said of Scott. “He’s got such a good attitude. Really, it’s like another club in his bag.” Asked his thoughts on Scott’s zany finish, McLean shook his head and smiled. “Things like that could slow your career down,” he said, “but the way it worked out, this could accelerate it.”
Kids who sneak away to the back rooms at golf clubs in Australia these days have a new idol, a real burgeoning rocketship. His swing is powerful, he hits the ball a mile, he employs Butch Harmon as his coach and he even dates a Swedish girl. And his name isn’t Tiger Woods. It’s Adam Scott, and his 12-under total of 276 on devilishly slick, difficult greens – or near-dead “browns,” to be more succinct – sent a strong message to his talented peers at TPC at Sawgrass: Better watch out for The Kid.
With the Masters right around the corner, Scott could fast become a major force, and he is brimming with confidence after prevailing over the deepest field golf will gather all season. He won for the sixth time worldwide and second time on the PGA Tour since September (Deutsche Bank Championship).
“I think the people around him have seen his talent level sooner than I think he even knew himself,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished third with Kenny Perry and Frank Lickliter at 280, four shots back.
With Woods still working out a few kinks in his long game – he used only 26 putts in his opening round and still shot 75, his fourth consecutive over-par effort – Scott has barged his way onto the short list of players to watch heading into the first major of the season at Augusta National April 8-11.
“I hope this can kick me on to become a champion like most of the guys who have won this,” said Scott. “It takes something to win this tournament.”
In the past 13 months, Harmon said two events greatly bolstered Scott’s confidence: Going toe-to-toe against Woods for 19 holes in the semifinals of the 2003 WGC-Match Play (which Woods won) and having Ernie Els request him as his partner during the Presidents Cup. (“That meant a lot to Adam,” Harmon said. “It showed him he belonged.”) Winning the Players on one of golf’s most arduous layouts completes a significant trifecta, placing Scott in a new stratosphere.
Scott settled in early at Sawgrass, blistering the course on Day 1 with eight birdies en route to 7-under 65. By the weekend, towel-toting Kevin Sutherland, obviously inspired by golf’s biggest paydays – his lone PGA Tour victory, the 2002 WGC-Match Play, produced a $1 million windfall – had moved into the lead alongside Jerry Kelly at 9 under. They had plenty of marquee names on their heels. Scott (72), Vijay Singh, Els and a smarter, dialed-back Mickelson (who joined Perry as the lone player with four sub-par rounds) all stayed within striking distance.
On Sunday, when Scott teed off with a two-shot lead, Perry and Mickelson were the players staying closest, but Scott kept them at bay by pouring in birdie after birdie. Harrington came from virtually nowhere late, making practically every putt he looked at over the final dozen holes, shooting 66 to finish runner-up for the second consecutive year.
“I holed one putt over 15 feet in the last week,” he said, “and everything today.”
A year ago, Scott’s putting was so dismal at the British Open that he took a week to do nothing but putt and work on his short game. At Sawgrass, where green speeds Sunday approached an unthinkable 14 on the Stimp – that’s downhill in a greased bathtub – his putting was a strength.
“These greens are borderline insane,” said Lickliter, who should know – TPC is his home course. “I had one (a putt) on 13 that, if I took the line I needed to take to make it, I actually could have rolled the ball into the water. I took a safer line just so I wouldn’t make it on ESPN.”
Woods battled to make the cut, and did so with two shots to spare with a 69, pushing his streak to 120 consecutive cuts made – or 104 more than his closest pursuer. A day later he joined the hunt, sending electricity across the golf course as he made his move by shooting 4 under on the front. Though he hit only nine greens in all, he would make eight birdies total, and only a bogey-bogey finish prevented him from really making some noise.
“I was right there,” he said. “Anytime you end with bogey-bogey, it's always going to leave a bad taste in your mouth.”
This was more like spitting out castor oil. Starting six back instead of four, Woods sputtered early Sunday and never was a factor, and now will venture to Augusta after a majorless 2003 plagued by more questions than answers regarding his swing.
Instead, it was Scott, the kid who swings just like Woods, leaving TPC with the champion’s Waterford crystal, just as Woods had in 2001. Those who think Harmon molded Scott’s swing to imitate Woods’ – not a bad one to copy, mind you – may be surprised to learn that Scott was swinging Tiger-like the first time he met Harmon as an 18-year-old freshman at UNLV. Notes Harmon, recalling that first sighting, “I thought I’d seen his swing before. . . . That was the way he was born to swing.”
Said Norman, “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.”
Norman said he has “all the time in the world” for his young compatriot, and proved it the day before the tournament began when he was summoned by Harmon to assist Scott with his chipping. Norman spent more than an hour tutoring him. Scott admittedly was chipping “horribly,” his technique far too “handsy.” Norman advised him to keep the toe of the club up more on his takeaway, and to accelerate more at the bottom, creating the speed needed to obtain that hard first check in order to stop the ball. Down the stretch Sunday, Scott saved himself with nifty up-and-downs at three of his last four holes.
If Norman gets six figures for an outing, wonder what his lesson fee is?
“I think I definitely owe Greg a beer,” said TPC’s newest, youngest champion, who is barely old enough to savor one himself.
And now that Scott has placed his name near Norman’s on The Players’ storied list of champions, most of whom are major winners, maybe he’ll have a tape of his own for youngsters to view back home at Royal Queensland.
Before too long, Scott may have his own complete library there.