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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – When Adam Scott turned 32 on Monday, he received an unusual gift from his family: A golf bag. The gesture put a smile on the golfer’s face, but for reasons of peculiarity.
“Quite a funny present,” Scott said.
Perhaps the cliched present of a necktie never looked so good, for one of the world’s best golfers doesn’t need a bag. He gets free bags. Come to think of it, he gets free everything.
So giving Scott a bag might be something like getting Mariah Carey voice lessons. We’re talking unnecessary. Yet he wasn’t complaining. He was amused, even grateful.
“It was a very nice golf bag, I have to say,” Scott said. “And I will use it when I’m at home, if I carry my clubs. It’s a small leather one, and I like that kind of thing.”
He also liked what happened three days later.
The Australian took advantage of rare soft and calm conditions Thursday and shot a 6-under 64 to take the first-round lead in the 141st Open Championship. The score equaled the Open low at Royal Lytham, set by Tom Lehman in 1996. It also gave Scott his first lead ever in a major championship after a round.
“It was a nice walk in the park,” said Scott, a stroke ahead of 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, European Match Play champ Nicolas Colsaerts and 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson. “It was not what we experienced in the (windy) practice rounds. I’m sure there’s going to be some weather elements thrown at us the next three days. So I’m just going to have to knuckle down to handle that.”
He started slowly, bogeying No. 3 to go 1 over. But then he birdied eight of his next 13 holes to reach 7 under and give himself a chance to become the first player to shoot 62 in a major. He needed at least a birdie and par on the final two holes to make history.
Thoughts of 62 entered his mind briefly, Scott said, as he entered a portable toilet near the 17th tee. As it happened, he pulled a 2-iron tee shot at 18, pitched out to the fairway and bogeyed.
Still, he was delighted, for not only is he ahead, but he finally started a 2012 major with a good score. He opened the Masters with a 75 and the U.S. Open with 76. He rallied in both, tying for eighth and 15th, respectively, but he realized he needed a different game plan coming in.
So, with the help of caddie Steve Williams, he came up with this: Act like Thursday is Sunday.
“(I wanted) to focus and play the first hole at the tournament like it’s the 72nd and you’ve got to make three to win,” he said. “That was my mindset on the first tee this morning – to really switch on right from the first tee and not just see how it goes for the first few holes.”
Scott’s best finish in 45 majors is a T-2 at the 2011 Masters. That was his only really good chance to win one of the game’s four crowned jewels. He has seven major top 10s, including one at the Open Championship.
Needless to say, he’s glad Williams and coach Brad Malone pushed him to giddy up quickly.
“That’s good for me,” Scott said. “I can feed off it because I can cruise a little bit too much when I’m on the golf course. It’s a good thing to get me going right from the start and get me alert.”
He was coming off a third-place finish July 1 at the AT&T National at Congressional. He brought confidence in his ball-striking and all-around game. The high esteem showed Thursday, when he hit 10 of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation.
Just as important, Scott thinks he is a threat on the greens after years of inconsistent putting. Scott has improved significantly since switching to a long putter in February 2011.
To wit: He ranked no better than 178th in PGA Tour putting (strokes gained) in 2008-10. This year he’s 76th.
“My putting has improved out of sight,” Scott said. “That’s a big difference.”
The Open scoreboard would tend to support that.