PARAMUS, N.J. – Prior to the opening round of this week’s Barclays, former No. 1-ranked player Adam Scott sat back in his chair behind an interview room podium and ruminated on a month in golf that saw him not only lose that title, but become completely overshadowed by the man who raced past.
“He's put on a clinic the last few weeks in how to drive the golf ball,” Scott offered in regard to Rory McIlroy’s straight, booming tee shots. “And it's motivating for me, because I can see what's possible. I believe if he can do it, I can do it for sure.”
Good news, golf fans: These are exactly the words you wanted to hear.
Dominant players shouldn’t send their fellow competitors scurrying for the nearest bunker to bury their head and crawl into the fetal position. No, they should inspire them. Motivate them. Provoke them into practicing more and focusing better and playing improved golf.
It appears that’s exactly what McIlroy has done, too – at least for Scott.
Thanks to a second-round 6-under 65, the defending champion has claimed a share of the lead entering the weekend.
And thanks to the player who’s won three tournaments in the past month, he isn’t showing any signs of letting up anytime soon.
“I think you've got to draw motivation from wherever you can,” Scott explained. “I'm not afraid to say that I look at the way he played and I want that to be me. And I feel that I can play like that and have runs like that. You've got to learn from the best and he's one of them.”
A calm competitor on the outside who burns with intensity on the inside, Scott seems annoyed – if not completely frustrated – that his good hasn’t been good enough lately.
Since his victory at the Crowne Plaza Invitational back in May, his results read as follows: 4-9-5-8-15. That’s enough to have some players ecstatic. For Scott, it meant losing the No. 1 ranking and trying to get better.
That includes trying to chase down Rory and reclaim that position.
His goals, though, aren’t so tangible.
“It's not that specific. I think it's more about what's possible. I mean, to win two majors in a month ‑‑ we've seen other guys do it, but it doesn't happen very often. But I think you've got to believe it can just happen a bit more often.
“I'd love to get back to No. 1 and I think this is a good stretch of golf for me to try and do that. But the standard I'll have to play at is really high. So it would be great to put myself up in the mix and hopefully have Rory think he's got to look over his shoulder – at least for me.”
Not that this is anything close to a two-man tournament, but it should be noted that McIlroy remains five strokes behind Scott entering the final 36 holes, a position that would have the latter smiling if it hadn’t also come with so much missed opportunity.
In the second round, Scott put on an impressive ball-striking display, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation. His putting, however, was another matter. Still wielding the anchored broomstick, he holed only four putts of longer than 4 feet and missed three inside 10 feet.
When asked how many shots better his 65 could have been if he’d putted well, he answered, “Always hard to put numbers on it, but 6-7. … Ifs and buts, but I played well enough that if I had it really going on the green today to do that for sure.”
Afterward, he appeared both dismissive of how poorly he putted, but aware of how it affected his score.
“Your speed's got to be perfect to get that true roll, and most of them were good putts,” he maintained. “Of course, some were not. My putting feels good. It just wasn't my day today on the greens.”
Scott will undoubtedly try to change that during the weekend rounds. He’s not only chasing another title at this event, he’s chasing a player who has prompted a frenzy over the past month.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – or at least that’s what they say. Scott is trying to beat McIlroy by joining him as a recent elite player taking a turn in the winner’s circle. That’s been Rory’s domain lately, but it’s given his next-closest pursuer on the world list plenty of motivation.
“Look at what he's doing,” Scott said. “The way he's going about it is important, because it's relevant to the way we all play out here.”
So far this week, McIlroy’s recent dominance has been relevant to lighting a fire under Scott, helping to ignite his run to the top of the leaderboard.