ORLANDO, Fla. – Adam Scott as world No. 1? Hopefully those posters never went to the printer.
His supposed coronation at Bay Hill only led to more final-round consternation.
Up by a touchdown at the halfway point, Scott went into prevent defense and punted away several chances on the back nine Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. With two weeks until the year’s first major, he’s now in need of both a short-game cleanup and confidence boost.
What the heck happened?
Wire-to-wire winners are rare because, eventually, over 72 holes, a player shows a few weaknesses. He plays a few loose shots. He whiffs a few short putts. He begins to fade. He tires. The hope, of course, is that the damage during this inevitable downturn isn’t too severe, or that the lead is insurmountable.
The latter was the case at last fall’s Tour Championship. Henrik Stenson led by nine at one point, only to watch as his weekend lead nearly evaporated. A few bogeys – and a few surges from the pursuers – can create a drowning sensation.
“When you have a big lead and it comes back to you, you feel like you have lost something but you really haven’t,” Stenson recalled Sunday. “It had just felt like a done deal. It’s never easy, even though everyone expects you to win.”
Well, of course we expected Scott to win.
Here he was – at one of Tiger’s playgrounds, with Tiger’s old swing and caddie – on the verge of becoming world No. 1 while the proud champion he was dethroning stayed home with an achy back. And besides, closing out a seven-shot lead with 36 to play is what the second-ranked player in the world is supposed to do.
Instead, Scott threw up a 71-76 to blow his best chance not only to win this season but also to ascend to world No. 1 for the first time.
And make no mistake: There’s a lot of fresh scar tissue now on that chiseled frame.
There was the 2012 British Open, where he bogeyed the last four holes to lose by one.
And the 2013 Open, where he held the lead on the back nine Sunday but bogeyed three holes in a row to leave without the claret jug – again.
And the 2013 Australian Open, where he squandered a four-shot lead – and the Scottie Slam – on the final day.
And now this – a five-bogey 76 that left him two shots behind Matt Every’s 13-under 275.
“I’m annoyed that I didn’t do better today,” Scott said afterward. “Sometimes you’ve got to be hard on yourself. Sometimes you don’t. I think I was getting into a really good spot and had an opportunity here to run away with an event and really take a lot of confidence. I’m taking confidence, anyway, just from some good play. But some opportunities you’ve got to take.”
For all the talk of his soon-to-be-banned broomstick, there’s little disputing that the putter remains Scott’s greatest weakness, his biggest obstacle to being a prolific major winner. Though he’s 18th in strokes gained-putting in limited action this season, history tells us that is unlikely to last. He hasn’t finished inside the top 100 in that statistic since 2007.
Scott needed only 23 putts during a first-round, course record-tying 62, but he wasn’t the same player on the greens the rest of the way. He took 30-plus swipes during both weekend rounds – including 32 on the final day, with only five one-putts – but still had opportunities to either win outright or force a playoff coming down the stretch.
On the par-5 16th, he lined up a 20-foot eagle putt, but sent his first putt 4 feet by and misread the comebacker. On the very next hole, he tugged a 7-footer for par.
“After missing a couple over the last couple of days, doubt creeps into your reads,” he said. “You need to be certain, and I wasn’t 100 percent on.”
Now, his chances at Augusta likely depend on regaining that trust.
“If nothing else,” he said, “this was a good reminder on how much putting practice I need to do for the Masters and just how important it is.”
On more than one occasion recently Scott, a 10-time winner at age 33, has mentioned that he must capitalize on these upcoming years – the peak years – if he’s to vault into truly elite company.
On Saturday night, after his seven-shot advantage was trimmed to three, he explained it thusly:
“If I only win one tournament in the peak time in my career, it’s no different than the rest of my career so far. I’ve got to create these chances more often and I’ve got to take them more often than I have. I’ve got to start closing at a better rate than ever before.”
Well, he created the chances Sunday – to play a solid round, to win emphatically, to reach a lifelong dream and become world No. 1 – only to kick them away. Some coronation.