PALM HARBOR, Fla. –– Everyone’s path to success is different. Finding success on golf’s biggest stages is no exception.
It took Phil Mickelson 12 years since turning pro in 1992 to win his first major championship, the 2004 Masters at 33 years old. For Rory McIlroy, success came much earlier, as he won his first major, the 2011 U.S. Open, at the age of 22.
Perhaps that’s why Adam Scott isn’t too frustrated by the fact that he’s still major-less at 32.
“I mean, Mickelson knocked on the door for years and years, and then the floodgates opened for him,” said Scott, who shot 5-under 66 Friday and sits in solo second, one shot back of Tampa Bay Championship leader Shawn Stefani.
Scott, making his last official start before Augusta, has now let two majors slip through his grasp after last year’s final-round collapse at the Open Championship, but the Australian is confident he won’t be waiting too much longer for his first major crown.
“(For) a long time, I didn’t really look (at myself) like I was a major contender, and now I feel like I am,” Scott said. “So I feel like now’s my time (and) it’s up to me to make that happen.”
Scott’s game certainly leads one to believe he’s got what it takes to join golf’s list of major winners. He has finished in the top 20 in nine straight stroke-play events dating back to last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship, where he was T-7. That streak includes a T-5 showing at the Barclays Singapore Open, a win at the Talisker Masters and a T-3 finish at last week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Scott said he improved his short game during the offseason, citing a chipping breakthrough back home in Australia at the beginning of the year.
“I managed to get through the whole shag bag of balls, hitting every chip the same without one jumping up and running on,” Scott said. “Everything was very controlled and consistent. And after I had hit a shag bag, I thought to myself, I think that’s the best bunch of chips I’ve ever hit. . . . That was kind of the point I didn’t look back.”
Confidence around the greens has given Scott a little protection to go for more pins – “You can go for your shot a little bit and the short game will be there to back you up,” he said. It has also kept other parts of his game from suffering.
“Pressure gets on one (part of the game) and eventually if it’s not relieved, it’s all going to break down,” Scott said.
He still needs to improve his wedge game more before the Masters, but Scott is pleased with how he’s playing. He was bogey-free on Friday in his first appearance at Innisbrook since 2010, missing just three greens.
“I’ve gotten my game to a point where I feel like I’m right there (capable of winning a major),” said Scott, who is ranked seventh in the Official World Golf Ranking and second in the Golfweek/Sagarin Pro Rankings.
Scott has had success in majors, as well, since finishing T-9 at the 2002 Masters. He has eight top-10s in 47 major-championship starts, including three each at Augusta and the PGA Championship. He’s made 9-of-11 cuts at Augusta, finishing T-33 or better all nine times.
But despite the impressive track record on golf’s biggest stages, most people still remember his two near-victories above the rest of his finishes. Scott finished T-2 at the 2011 Masters in which he led late in the final round before Charl Schwartzel birdied his final four holes to win by two. And then there was last July at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, where he bogeyed his final four holes to lose to Ernie Els by a shot.
Scott handled the crushing defeat well and eight months later, he still looks upon it positively.
“Looking back on it still, it’s a highlight for me last year, the way I played,” Scott said. “That’s the way I’ve dreamt of playing a major championship my whole life and finally got myself to that point.”
Scott’s next shot at a major title is quickly approaching and Scott appears more ready now than ever to give it a run at the Masters next month. He’s certainly focused on it, playing a round with Els at Augusta on Tuesday.
“I thought (the course) was in the best shape I’ve ever seen it in this early in the year,” Scott said. “They must have had some nice warm days and cool nights, and a lot of grass seems to be growing. . . . It’s pretty much perfect.”
And at the moment, Scott’s game appears to be just as flawless.