NASSAU, Bahamas – This week’s Hero World Challenge is a home game for Adam Scott.
He was one of the first PGA Tour types to migrate to this island enclave, but it’s his spot on assorted leaderboards the last few months that is starting to feel like the friendly confines again for the Australian.
By his own admission, 2015 was a year of “transition” for the 35-year-old. He managed just three top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, failed to win anywhere in the world and slipped to 16th in the World Ranking.
Most will point to Scott’s putting, and the looming ban on anchoring next month, as the source of his swoon, but his troubles went deeper than that much-maligned broom-handled putter.
In fact, he only half-jokes that he should have made the switch to a traditional-length putter long before October, and the statistics suggest he’s correct.
Scott ranked 158th in strokes gained-putting in 2015 – his lowest position in that category since 2010 just before he switched to the anchored putter – and was 183rd on Tour in three-putt avoidance.
“I think the focus on putting is probably the least impactful thing,” said Scott following his opening 67 at the Hero World Challenge left him one stroke off the lead. “I putted so poorly this year with the long putter, I wish I had transitioned to the short putter earlier.”
But Scott’s play, at least in the near future, will be analyzed by his performance on the putting surfaces after he became the first player to win the Masters using an anchored putter.
Whether it’s deserved or not, Scott became the poster child when the ruling bodies made their move on anchoring in many minds, and as the deadline has inched closer the focus has been squarely on Scott.
So much so he made news when he arrived at the Presidents Cup in October with a traditional-length model, and even more headlines when he struggled in his early matches in South Korea.
Since those matches, however, that liability has become a luxury with Scott’s results since the transition trending in all the right directions.
He finished tied for seventh the week after the Presidents Cup at the Japan Open, runner-up at the CIMB Classic, fifth at the Australian Masters and tied for second place last week at the Australian Open.
The momentum continued on Thursday at Albany, where he spends his time when he’s not on Tour, with a quick start that included an eagle at the par-5 third hole.
Slowed by sloppy bogeys at the fourth and 13th holes, Scott finished his round with a birdie at No. 18 for a 67, which was two strokes off the course record which was set by Scott when Albany was, by most accounts, much harder.
“I think the course has been softened a lot,” Scott said. “I mean they made some changes with this event in mind over the last 12, 18 months I guess to the greens specifically. The course is playing very soft this week, so I think that record probably is going to be gone soon.”
Considering Thursday’s scoring, with three players – Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson and Paul Casey – grabbing a share of the lead at 6-under 66, Scott’s record is certainly in jeopardy, but his career – which some thought might be perched on a non-anchored abyss – has been rejuvenated.
His improved play on the greens has fueled improvements in other parts of his game, specifically his ball striking, which has always been the standard on Tour but has suffered in recent years.
“I haven't had the consistency with my striking this year because it's kind of one of those things where when your putting suffers, eventually it catches up with your ball striking,” he said.
“I had been a bit inconsistent with that this year, but I think the better putting over the last couple months has helped make that happen so I feel like I'm getting back into that kind of top rhythm you have when you're playing well.”
The goal is to finish the season with a victory and this week’s stop is his final chance, but even without a trophy on Sunday his “transition” year will end on a positive note.
It was by any measure an eventful year for Scott, who switched caddies, tinkered with his driver, became a father and, yes, ditched the anchored putting stroke for good.
Asked on Thursday if he’s tired of being asked about his putter, Scott – normally one of the more reserved interviews in the game – left no room for ambiguity.
“Yep, absolutely,” he said. “It's really not that big of a deal, and I'm portrayed as a poor putter, but I think that's a bit of a misconception. Yes, I putted poorly this year, but it's very hard to do well when putting as poorly as people might think.”
There will undoubtedly be more questions about his putting in 2016, but Scott is answering those doubts the only way he can – one top-10 finish at a time.