Major mimicry: Scott follows Tiger's path to success
PITTSFORD, N.Y. Adam Scott not only has Tiger Woods’ former swing motion, he seems to have Woods’ old major championship mojo. As a result, Scott not only has become a force, he’s a deterrent. At this rate, the Australian stands as a primary obstacle in Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.
Imitation not only is the sincerest form of flattery, sometimes it catches up to the original. Just as Woods has somehow had trouble solving the puzzle of major weekends he once owned, Scott has simultaneously discovered a formula that allows him to perform his best on golf’s grandest stages.
“I think the results are showing that I have got something figured out,” Scott said here at the PGA Championship. “I like what I’m doing, so I am just going to keep doing it.”
As he should. Continued brilliance has lifted him to a high perch at Oak Hill. He followed an opening 65, which featured a stretch of birdies that he called probably his best run ever, with a rainy-morning 68. He had a three-stroke cushion at one point before finishing with the early clubhouse lead at 7 under par.
“I’m very confident with where my game’s at,” Scott said after making five birdies and three bogeys Friday morning. “But I’ve just got to make the most out of that this weekend.”
Scott not only has replicated Woods’ circa 2000 swing and employs his former caddie, he has used his elder’s major preparation template: Play a lighter schedule and take strategic weeks off for practice, giving yourself the best chance to peak four times a year.
“All the great players in history have (peaked properly), and I’ve tried to borrow a leaf out of their book,” Scott said after a round that could have been better if not for some missed putts inside 10 feet. “Tiger is a great example for anyone trying to peak. You look at his schedule, look at the way he does it. He’s obviously not going home and sitting on the couch the whole time. He’s working hard on his game to come out and perform his best every time he plays.”
Mimicry, of course, is as old as time. High achievers have emulated others forever. As a young prodigy, Woods at times was likened to Mozart. It so happens Mozart had a powerful influence on Beethoven in the late 1700s, with the latter modeling a number of his compositions on those of the older composer.
Whether Scott becomes golf’s version of a budding Beethoven remains to be seen. But he has cracked the major code the last couple of seasons after underachieving for years. In his first 39 majors, he had four top-10 finishes and 14 missed cuts. In his last 11, he has a victory in this year’s Masters, five other top 10s and three other top 25s.
The biggest change he made was dropping tournaments off his schedule. That puts more pressure on a player, for there are fewer opportunities for success. But it has worked for Scott.
“At some point you’ve got to step out of a comfort zone and back yourself and not be afraid of doing that, and I had to make a change,” he said. “It took me a long time to figure out I’ve got to do something different.”
The Augusta success not only soothed the pain of his having blown a four-shot lead with four holes remaining at the 2012 Open Championship, it lifted his confidence. Rather than sulk after the blowup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, he adopted an “I’ll show everybody” mindset. He not only took away positives, he has applied a technical adjustment at the Masters and beyond.
Though his swing looks like arguably the game’s most picture-perfect, his miss under pressure had been to the left, and that was evident down the stretch at Lytham. He yanked an approach at 15, overdrew a 6-iron into thick rough at 17 and hit a 3-wood drive into a left fairway bunker at 18. So Scott worked with coach Brad Malone, his brother-in-law, on improving his takeaway and fixing the problem.
At 33, in the prime age period for a golfer, Scott says there are myriad reasons he has elevated to the point of contending in most majors the past couple of years. The hunger to improve is among them. The urgency to cash in during his 30s is another.
“The platform has never been better for me to go on and win multiple majors,” he said. “You’ve got to take the confidence and form of winning a major and run with it. I’m doing everything I can to make sure these are my best years.”
At the same time, he knows the game is fickle and cautions, “I don’t know if you ever have it all figured out.” One need only look at Woods’ major drought that extends to June 2008. Or at Scott’s last six holes at this year’s Open Championship. He strode onto the 13th tee with the sole lead and walked off the 16th green five strokes behind. His four consecutive bogeys, reminiscent of the year prior, and Phil Mickelson’s birdie-birdie finish left the affable Australian emotionally empty there once more.
But again he has bounced back to a high perch here, in position again. As he playfully said Friday, “It seems to be a theme.”
Once reporters stopped laughing, Scott framed his rebound with a serious take.
“I think all it says is that I’m hungry at the moment,” he said. “I feel like this is my time to get everything I want out of my career, and I’m going to keep pushing until I do. My game is in great shape. I’ve got to take advantage of it. Otherwise it’s all a waste.”