Hawk's Nest: Masters wins in the end


Upon winning the 2004 Players Championship, where he knocked his approach into the water on the 18th, then holed a 10-footer to beat Padraig Harrington by a stroke, Adam Scott hurled his golf ball into a grandstand behind the green, as champions occasionally do. While standing at the foot of those bleachers, I saw Scott’s ball soar over my head, then heard the commotion you might expect when a bunch of people are fighting over a $3 Titleist.

For some reason, I turned and looked up. The ball bounced off a wooden plank, then another, before falling to me like a Snickers bar in a vending machine. I briefly thought about throwing it back into the crowd, but I stuck it in my pocket instead and approached Scott after he’d wrapped up his interview in the media center.

“Hey, you want this?” I asked.

“How did you get that?” he replied, looking a bit more annoyed than perplexed.

I should have told him I beat up a 6-year-old and pushed an old lady off the top row, or that I planned to sell the ball on eBay after he signed it for me, but Scott is way too nice a guy to mess with. A genuinely good-hearted person. Excellent manners. Clearly, he was raised properly, but there is a gentlemanly quality to him even beyond the positive effects of a good mother and father.

The parallels between Scott and Davis Love III have always been striking to me. Not just the ultra-similar personalities, but the textbook golf swing, the teaching-pro dad – and the notion that both were high-profile underachievers because they lacked a mean streak or a killer instinct. Neither was particularly sharp on and around the greens, leading to almost identical labels.

It may not have been the fairest way to appraise the two players, but nobody exactly disputed the notion, either.

Now Scott is an undeniably worthy Masters champion, holing clutch putts and striking the ball exceptionally well to outlast Angel Cabrera in a two-hole playoff. In a week that featured a Tiger Woods overdose even before the two-stroke penalty, at a tournament where the youngest kid ever to make the cut at a major was penalized a stroke for slow play, a Masters to remember had a happy ending.

When Scott fell apart down the stretch at last summer’s British Open and blew a four-stroke lead with four to play, I processed everything I knew about him and figured he’d have a difficult time overcoming the collapse. Not just in the short-term, but for the duration of his career. It was an epic meltdown – the kind that leaves a permanent mark on many.

For him to rebound two majors later and win the way he did speaks volumes about Scott’s competitive character. His PGA Tour career began over a decade ago amid considerable fanfare, although it quickly became clear Scott’s short game wasn’t nearly good enough to help him win tournaments on a regular basis. He’ll never be a Seve but, no question, he has gotten a lot better.

As was the case with Love, Scott consistently failed to factor at the majors throughout his first eight seasons – just three top-10s in his first 36 starts – which can be blamed on his inability to get up and down. At the 2008 Byron Nelson Championship, which Scott won on a brutally chilly May afternoon in Dallas, I remember him being in a particularly reflective mood. He had just climbed to third in the world ranking, meaning he’d be paired with No. 1 Tiger Woods and No 2 Phil Mickelson at the upcoming U.S. Open.

We talked for a while, most of the time with just a couple of other people around. As likeable as he was, as well-grounded as he sounded, Scott was about to become a 28-year-old in serious transition. He would buy a private jet, break up with Marie Kojzar, his live-in girlfriend, and part ways with longtime swing coach Butch Harmon.

To me, it didn’t add up. Had Scott made enough money to afford his own jet? Who was giving him advice? Sergio Garcia goes into the tank after a busted relationship with Greg Norman’s daughter. Now Greg Norman’s protégé appears to be flying blind. Golf’s two most capable post-Woods phenoms were getting nowhere fast. Had life for Adam and Sergio gotten too easy?

Scott would go two full years (2009-10) without doing much. Since finishing second at the 2011 Masters, then hiring former Woods caddie Steve Williams that summer, the Aussie has become a much tougher, more visible big-game competitor. He may never evolve into the five-major, 25-victory superstar many people envisioned a decade ago, but on a cloudy, rainy Sunday at Augusta National, Scott slayed the demons and seized the moment with a strength some didn’t know he had.

A more likeable Masters champion, you will not find. Oh, and by the way? Scott didn’t want that ball he’d thrown into the stands after winning The Players. I gave it to a kid who was waiting for his autograph outside the clubhouse that evening.

IT WAS A very interesting Masters before Scott’s dramatic triumph, shaped in large part by the two rules-related incidents that just happened to involve the tournament’s most newsworthy participants. A one-stroke penalty slapped on Tianlang Guan, two strokes issued to Woods. And approximately 60 million words of reaction, give or take a syllable, as any high-profile ruling (and subsequent sanction) is sure to generate.

Some thoughts:

We can talk forever about whether they were picking on the 14-year-old from China, but pro golf has a serious slow-play problem – and European Tour official John Paramour seems to be the only person willing to do something about it. Paramour has been around for a long time, and if there’s one thing you should know about him, it’s that he never looks the other way.

The PGA Tour is full of really nice officials who never call penalties, who reflexively give players the benefit of the doubt and do whatever they can not to affect the outcome of a tournament. Paramour is old-school – the tough cop who doesn’t care about the identity of the player committing a violation or why it was committed.

I seriously doubt the penalty assessed to Guan will lead to more stringent enforcement of the pace-of-play policy, but at least Paramour reminded us that somebody’s paying attention.

THERE’S SOMETHING RATHER humorous about Rule 33-7, which basically allows golf’s lawmen to fix something they screwed up or missed earlier. On that note, I think it was implemented to fine effect in regard to Tiger’s drop at the 15th Friday. Understandably, my weekend chats were dominated by voices of protest, which means absolutely nothing.

About half of golf’s universe despises Woods, period. The other half adores him, so public opinion on this matter is even more irrelevant than usual. To me, the two-stroke assessment felt like a backhanded compromise. Disqualification became a non-option after Woods was cleared of any wrongdoing before signing his scorecard. Yet, he unwittingly admitted to taking an illegal drop in a post-round interview, so the green jackets felt like something had to be done.

There’s no question in my mind: Tiger didn’t know the precise specifics of the drop rule. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have said what he said on TV. What’s funny is, he tried to be candid and honest about what happened – and it ultimately cost him. Did it ultimately affect his performance on the weekend? Come on. The guy’s a lot tougher than that.

Woods didn’t win the 2013 Masters because he didn’t play well enough. Once again, his putting at Augusta National was slipshod. I’ve never seen him leave a putt 15 short, as he did on the fifth green Sunday. He made 15 birdies for the week, seven of them on the par 5s, but his inability to score on Augusta National’s back nine has been a problem for several years, never more so than this past week.

When the world’s best players gather at Merion in two months for the U.S. Open, it will mark the five-year anniversary of Woods’ last major title. The only consistent trait he has displayed over that period is a penchant for putting himself in excellent position through 36 holes, then doing nothing with it. With each passing failure, Mount Nicklaus gets a little higher. Nineteen major victories? I’ve got an idea. How ’bout we get to 15?