McCabe: Blake Adams learning how to finish on Tour

Blake Adams watches his shot as it approaches the 18th green during the second round of the 2012 Travelers Championship.

Blake Adams watches his shot as it approaches the 18th green during the second round of the 2012 Travelers Championship.

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CROMWELL, Conn. - Part of his resume includes a rocky career with the University of Georgia golf program, though he’s settled in nicely within the confines of the PGA Tour.

Not unlike Bubba Watson.

He’s also that guy who seemingly has figured out how to get off to solid 36-hole starts, but hasn’t quite solved the weekend mystery yet.

Sort of like Jason Dufner.

When you consider Blake Adams’ story, there are similarities to Watson and Dufner. Now seeing Adams follow in paths blazed by either of those men – Nos. 6 and 8 in the world order, respectively – might seem a stretch, but this is the PGA Tour, where sure things don’t exist and surprises are the norm. (Or were you predicting at this time last year that Keegan Bradley would win a major? Or Webb Simpson would be your next U.S. Open champ and second-highest-ranked American?)

Then again, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Control sits with Adams, who figures he’ll take the next step only when his putting stroke behaves on the weekend.

“My main thing is just making putts,” Adams said after the morning wave at hot and steamy TPC River Highlands. Converting six birdies over his last 10 holes, Adams continued to show he can break from the gates, shooting a second-round 6-under 64 to get halfway home at 7 under, just two off Fredrik Jacobson’s clubhouse lead.

While accepting plaudits for a round in which he hit 12 of 14 fairways and required just 25 putts, Adams did not deny the other half of the story. He’s been unable thus far in 2012 to carry over his solid Thursday-Friday stuff into Saturday-Sunday. And not just once or twice, either, because Adams has been on a roll since missing the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship. In six tournaments since, he has opened with two 66s, three 69s, and a 72 at the brutally difficult U.S. Open. It translates into an average start of 68.5, yet Adams has not only not parlayed it into a win, he hasn’t finished better than T-12 in that stretch.

Why? Look no further than Saturday and Sunday, where he is 13 over in his last five tournaments, compared to 3 under for Thursday and Friday over those same events.

Frustrating?

Not really, because Adams measures his game differently. He knows strides have been made with his skill set. There’s more good than bad to the current state of affairs.

“I learned a lot about myself last week,” said Adams, who was at 2-over 142, just three behind at the U.S. Open. “I was in fourth place going into the weekend and wasn’t nervous.”

Nor did he end up in first, not after rounds of 70-75.

“I’m hitting great shots. But it seems like every week I’m pressing a little too much, trying to force in a shot here and there.”

You’ll have to take Adams’ word on that, because he’s not outwardly showing such anxiety. Calmly going about hit duties with the same pace and demeanor, Adams was told he resembles Dufner, who consistently knocked on the door last season and early this year before cashing in – not once, but twice.

“I see the two of us as very, very similar,” said Adams, who lives in Nunez, Ga., where the population is less than 200. “We’re two laid-back guys, very alike. We both love college football.”

For the year, Adams’ scoring average for Thursday and Friday is 71.08, which ranks 68th on tour. His number is 72.55 for the third round (145th) and 71.55 for Round 4 (92nd). Certainly, there’s room for improvement, but that’s right in Adams’ wheelhouse, because he’s been a classic study in steady progress.

At 36, Adams is in his third year on Tour ($963,593 in 2010; $1,100,558 in 2011), after having played three seasons on the Nationwide Tour (going from $23,270 his first year to $399,749 in his third), after having toiled on the minitours for several years.

And to think, there was a time when he fancied himself a hoop star. A two-time first team all-state in Georgia high school circles, Adams said he had some “small-college offers” and was actually encouraged to walk on at the University of Georgia.

“But I didn’t do it, because I transferred to Georgia Southern.”

Like Watson a few years later, Adams doesn’t deny that he had issues with the way he was handled at the University of Georgia. Red-shirted his first year, Adams played two seasons, never felt wanted, and left. Disappointing, “because I always wanted to go to a big school, and I’m a huge, huge Georgia fan. My family is all Bulldogs.”

It has surely taken a while, but Adams’ faith in his game has manifested itself in moderate success. There have been seven top 10s in seven of his 79 starts, and his first-ever major start just one week ago featured a share of 21st. Not bad, yet he knows he was in position to do much better.

Adams considers it all part of the learning curve, though he knows one thing: He chose the better career path when it comes to his two favorite games.

“I always wanted to play a sport for a living,” he said. “But I don’t think the NBA was probably my route.”

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