british open

Scott's collapse final piece of puzzle

it helped him realize he was 'on the right track'

New York Times News ServiceJuly 18, 2013 

  • Thursday

    British Open

    What: First round

    Defending champ: Ernie Els

    Kentuckians in the field: Former Morehead State and Henry Clay star Josh Teater and Ben Stow, who will be a senior at UK

    TV: ESPN (4 a.m.-6 p.m.)

For a few long moments, it seemed the weight might never let Adam Scott stand up.

Sitting back on his haunches, resting that broomstick putter against his forehead, Scott struck a lonely pose on Royal Lytham's 18th green last year after his 8-foot par attempt slid past. After four consecutive bogeys, the British Open crown that seemed his an hour earlier now belonged to Ernie Els.

"I'm sure there will be a next time," Scott said later, "and I can do a better job of it."

Some wondered whether the soft-spoken Australian would be scarred for life.

The memories certainly cannot be sidestepped this week as golf's elite descend upon Muirfield to contest the 142nd British Open. Scott, however, arrives not as a tragic figure but rather as a major champion in search of more.

"Every tournament, I feel, is an opportunity for me now," said the reigning Masters champion, who became the first Australian to wear the green jacket with his triumph on the second hole of a rain-pelted playoff at Augusta in April.

"I haven't won the Open because of the Masters," Scott added. "I still miss out on that. But I'm really looking forward to going back and trying to get myself in a similar kind of situation — a chance to win the Open."

On Muirfield's straightforward course, which rewards ball-striking, the possibility cannot be ruled out.

Whatever happens, redemption will not be the Scott narrative. That has been taken care of.

"Incredible comeback," Curtis Strange, winner of two U.S. Opens, said of Scott. "Coming back from a disappointment that very few know what it feels like — it's hard to come back from something like that. Some do and some don't."

Granted, one does not have to look far to find another example of someone who rose quickly from the mat: Rory McIlroy went from blowing a 4-shot lead at the 2011 Masters to breaking records at the U.S. Open two months later.

But there are far more tragic losers whose major moments ended there: Scott Hoch at Augusta, Doug Sanders at St. Andrews, Mike Donald at Medinah, Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie.

"You learn from your experience, or you never recover from it," said Paul Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner, who once teetered on that list.

He took a 1-shot lead to the 17th hole at the 1987 British Open before a misguided driver skipped into one of Muirfield's 156 bunkers. A bogey-bogey finish left the Claret Jug to Nick Faldo.

"It still hurts to this day," Azinger said.

Strange, likewise, led the 1985 Masters by three with six holes left. But three bogeys opened the door for Bernhard Langer. A few days later, Strange ran into Jack Nicklaus.

"I think this can make you or break you," Nicklaus told him, "and I think it will make you."

It was a three-year wait, though, before Strange won, beating Faldo in an 18-hole playoff at the 1988 U.S. Open.

"I think of being so frightened that it was going to break me down," Strange said. "You go at it harder, because you can't let that one tournament break you after all those years of working."

For Scott, the collapse at Royal Lytham served more as a form of validation. In his first 39 major appearances, he had posted just four top-10 finishes — never in weekend contention — and 14 missed cuts. Although he won the Players Championship in 2004, it failed to be a springboard to anything bigger.

He started making changes in 2010, leaving his longtime coach, Butch Harmon, for Brad Malone, then scaling his schedule back in 2011.

"I'm a learner, but not a fast one, obviously," Scott said. "I'd had enough, essentially, of not playing well enough in the big events when I felt I could. So I had to do something different. You have to after a while if it's not working."

Els, one of Scott's closest friends on tour, said the changes had been overdue.

"Some guys get it easier than others, and he's always gone through the harder," Els said. "A lot of times, guys kind of lose it a bit, where they feel the game isn't giving them enough. But Adam kept up his work right and his attention, and he got the rewards for it."

Scott tied for second at the 2011 Masters, sharing the lead until Charl Schwartzel produced his four-birdie finish. He later placed seventh at the PGA Championship, then tied for eighth in his next trip to Augusta.

Royal Lytham marked the first time a major was his to lose. When the initial shock wore off, he realized there was a progression in that fact.

"To get there just gave me the belief that I was on the right track — the belief that I'm good enough to win a major," he said. "It was like the final piece of the puzzle for me, I think, to get that through my head."

Fast-forward nine months, to Augusta's 10th green. Watching his 12-foot putt seal a Masters playoff triumph, Scott thrust his arms to the heavens.

"It was the most guttural of emotions that I've seen anybody in any sport ever exude," Azinger recalled. "It was halfway between crying and laughing. The joy that overcame him on the 10th green, how his body shook — it gives me chills just to talk about it."

Now the question is how many majors Scott might collect.

"It's a very exciting time in my career," he said, "where hopefully I can make the most of all the things that I've been working for and take advantage of the momentum."


Thursday

British Open

What: First round

Defending champ: Ernie Els

Kentuckians in the field: Former Morehead State and Henry Clay star Josh Teater and Ben Stow, who will be a senior at UK

TV: ESPN (4 a.m.-6 p.m.)

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