Long Tough Road to the Top

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PGA Tour (75x100)KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Adam Scott was in his final year of high school in Australia when he awoke at 5 a.m. one Monday in April to watch the final round of the Masters. What he saw that morning brought equal doses of awe and reality.
 
Scott had spent countless hours working on his game, driven by the dream of being No. 1 in the world. On the screen that morning was 21-year-old Tiger Woods becoming the youngest Masters champion with a record score of 18-under 270 for a 12-shot victory, the largest margin in a major championship since 1862.
 
Adam Scott
Adam Scott has a long way to go to catch Tiger Woods at the top.
'I thought it was unreal,' Scott said.
 
And it didn't take long for him to recognize that his dream might be just that.
 
Scott showed up at Kapalua for the start of the 2007 season with his game as good as it has ever been. He found consistency to go with that polished swing, rose to a career-high No. 4 in the world ranking and captured the TOUR Championship to finish a career-best No. 3 on the PGA TOUR money list.
 
The final few steps, though, seem like a marathon.
 
'All my life as a kid, I dreamt of being No. 1 in the world,' Scott said 'How am I going to live up that dream? I've got to somehow figure out a way to play better than this guy over a pretty long period of time. I don't think I'm making up ground on him, but at least I'm creeping up to a level that's competitive.'
 
Then he paused, and finished the sentence with a smile.
 
'On a good day.'
 
That's not giving up. That's reality.
 
Woods first rose to No. 1 in the summer of 1997, and only two players have taken that away from him -- David Duval in 1999 and Vijay Singh in 2004.
 
So it can be done.
 
Then again, neither stayed at No. 1 for more than six months. And both times Woods lost the No. 1 ranking, he was at the tail end of overhauling his swing.
 
A new year brings renewed optimism, yet the one question that remains is whether any young player is capable of challenging Woods. The list of candidates has become more refined, spearheaded by Scott, U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Paul Casey. All of them are in their 20s.
 
And all of them understand what they are facing.
 
'It's unfortunate for us that we've probably got the best golfer of all time that we have to be better than to be No. 1 in the world,' Ogilvy said. 'But we're also fortunate to be playing in his generation. We're all better because of him. The tournaments are better, there's more people to play in front of.'
 
Ogilvy broke through in a major way last year, winning the Accenture Match Play Championship and the U.S. Open. He finished fifth on the money list despite missing two months when his wife gave birth to their first child. Long considered one of the most talented Aussies, his goal was always to be the best, figuring the No. 1 ranking would come along with that.
 
And now?
 
'I still have aspirations to be No. 1,' said Ogilvy, now at No. 10. 'I think it's feasible. Is it feasible when he's having a run like he's having now? I don't know.'
 
Inspiration comes from Singh, who set a lofty goal in 2002 to take down Tiger. Remember, this was the year that Woods won the Masters and the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, and finished second at the PGA Championship. Singh closed that year by winning the Tour Championship to move to No. 7 in the world.
 
But the Fijian matched Woods' five victories in '03, then won nine times in '04 to dethrone Woods.
 
'If someone told you that Vijay would be No. 1 in the world after Bethpage, you would have laughed,' Ogilvy said. 'Well, you wouldn't have laughed because Vijay is a great player. But you would have laughed if someone said anyone would be better than Tiger. He was winning tournaments for fun back then. No question, it's possible. But it's going to be tough. And a lot depends on him.'
 
Woods twice went 10 majors without winning, and he lost his No. 1 ranking during both those droughts. But his rebound was remarkable. After the first dry spell, he won seven of the next 11 majors; after the second, he won four of the next eight.
 
'If Tiger plays his best golf, it's hard to beat that,' Casey said. 'It can be done, and I don't think Tiger would disagree. But he would find a way to work twice as hard to make sure it didn't happen. And that's the difficult part.'
 
Garcia already has played in the final group twice in a major (both times losing to Woods). Scott's four victories include The Players Championship and the TOUR Championship. Casey won three times in Europe last year and was voted the tour's best golfer. Ogilvy will try to convert his first major into many more.
 
All of them have solid credentials, weakened only by comparisons to Woods.
 
'The hardest thing now is for young kids to realize this Tiger benchmark is out of most everyone's league,' Scott said. 'I think it's a hard thing for young kids to find out when they get here. I certainly found out it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.'
 
But he hasn't given up a dream nurtured as a teenager in Australia, even before he turned on his TV that Monday morning in 1997.
 
'You can't give up on your hope of being No. 1 in the world,' Scott said. 'I want to be No. 1, and I believe I can be. But I've got to be realistic. If I play my best golf in the next five years, then I might be No. 1. If. Maybe. And it depends on what he does. But it's five years away for me.'
 
Another pause, another smile.
 
'Maybe I'll catch him between swing changes,' Scott said. 'He'll be due for another one then.'
 
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