Scott nearly keeps pace with McIlroy

Adam Scott during Thursday's first round of the 2014 British Open at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.
Adam Scott during Thursday's first round of the 2014 British Open at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. ( Getty Images )

Thursday, July 17, 2014

HOYLAKE, England – Memories from the 2011 U.S. Open are quite vivid and so, too, the 2012 PGA Championship. And, clearly, Adam Scott doesn’t have a problem recalling what happened just a month ago.

That is why as he came home into a stiff breeze late in the first round at Royal Liverpool, Scott told himself, “we don’t want him running away.”

“Him” being Rory McIlroy, who has done that twice already on a major stage – 2011 at Congressional and 2012 at Kiawah Island, both by a whopping eight strokes. And for good measure, Scott was part of the U.S. Open crowd last month that simply had no chance to catch Martin Kaymer, who won by eight at Pinehurst No. 2.

Now Scott meant no disrespect to Matteo Manassero, who shot 67, or the five names who shot 68 – Brooks Koepka, Eduardo Molinari, Francesco Molinari, Sergio Garcia, and Jim Furyk – but his point was directed toward an explosive, major-winning machine named McIlroy with a proven record of comfortable victories and for the helplessness that arrives when a talented name gets too far in front. McIlroy put all of those thoughts in motion with a tidy, bogey-free 66.

Feeling a sense of urgency to keep within striking distance, Scott played beautifully in the day’s roughest winds to wear a smile on his face. The world’s top-ranked player birdied the par-5 16th, then closed with a pair of pars to shoot 68, tied with Shane Lowry for the best afternoon scores.

“It was tougher this afternoon, for sure,” Scott said, and that assessment seems to have great credence to it. After all, of the 48 sub-par scores, only 13 were recorded by those who played in the latter half of the draw, with Boo Weekley’s 69 third-best, behind Scott and Lowry. “We got some help (on the way out), but once we got to 11, we turned back into a wind that kicked up to 15-20 miles per hour.

It had been far gentler in the morning when McIlroy set a torrid pace, but Scott might have been just as happy as the Northern Irishman, despite being two shots higher.

“Overall, everything looked pretty good,” Scott said after taking advantage of the downwind front-side holes (he birdied the fourth, eagled the fifth, then birdied the ninth) and turned in 4 under. Satisfied with 68, the former Masters champ concedes he could have been a bit better because “I missed a couple of short putts and didn’t take advantage of couple par 5s,” he said.

In fact, of the three par-5s coming home, Scott birdied on the 16th, but he wasn’t about to brush off the par he made at the 18th. His drive, after all, had gone well left, over by the gallery and the metal fence. Scott was given not one, but two drops, after which he had “an average lie.” The Aussie tried to “force it out a little low and get it to run down the fairway and onto the green.

In theory, a good plan. In execution, Scott pulled it left. All he could do from that point was wedge his third shot on, then two-putt for par. Now making par at par 5s is rarely embraced by PGA Tour players of Scott’s caliber, but he didn’t fret whatsoever – and for good reason.

Scott knew that a healthy list of marquee names just ahead of him (Ernie Els, 79; Bubba Watson 76; Phil Mickelson 74; Webb Simpson, 76; Martin Kaymer and Jason Day at 73) got off to rough starts and the Aussie was further aware of the eight-stroke deficit he spotted Kaymer at Pinehurst. So avoiding a repeat of that was Scott’s primary intention.

“I positioned it really well off the tee,” said the World No. 1 after hitting nine of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.