ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods was a no-show this week for his annual central Florida annuity, the byproduct of a back that continues to cause aches throughout the golf world, while Adam Scott at least waited until the weekend to go AWOL.
Following a course-record-tying 62 on Day 1 at Bay Hill, the would-be world No. 1 slowly, steadily, painfully back-pedaled his way into one of the more disappointing finishes of his career, squandering a seven-stroke advantage to begin the weekend on his way to a three-shot loss to Matt Every at a tournament that had all the markings of a coronation.
Major champions close. Players on the brink of overtaking Woods atop golf’s mathematically mad rankings don’t drop nine shots over two days to the 94th-ranked player whose primary claim to fame as a professional was, at least until Sunday, a 2010 arrest for possession of marijuana.
On the eve of the final round Scott acknowledged as much.
“I just don’t think you get the chance that much, because there are so many guys playing well,” Scott said on Saturday. “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 start closing at a better rate.”
But on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Scott blew the save ... there’s no other way to slice it up.
With a three-stroke advantage over Keegan Bradley, and four clear of Every, Scott bogeyed the first hole for the second consecutive day, added another at the third and by the 12th hole he was trailing for the first time all week.
Scott didn’t make a birdie on his closing loop on a breezy Sunday afternoon. When pressed for the root of his ills he figured it was his putter – the same club that betrayed him late last year when he lost the Australian Open to Rory McIlroy – which should shoulder the blame.
“I really think the putting has let me down on both those occasions,” said Scott, who has now failed to convert his last two 54-hole leads. “That needs to be tightened up and probably shows that I need to do a bit more work on it to hold up under the pressure.”
To hear Scott talk late Sunday one came away with the distinct feeling that the 2016 ban on anchoring can’t get here soon enough.
On paper, Scott’s take has merit. After needing 23 and 29 putts in Rounds 1 and 2, respectively, he batted his way around Bay Hill on the weekend needing a combined 63 putts, including a particularly deflating three-putt from 19 feet at the 16th hole that turned what could have been a three-stroke swing into an end game.
Every, who claimed his first PGA Tour title thanks to a closing 70 for a 13-under total, fanned his drive into the trees right of the 16th fairway, hit another tree with his second shot and had to chip out with his third. A two-putt bogey dropped him to 14 under and two ahead of Scott, who answered by rifling his second shot at the par 5 to 19 feet.
But Scott missed the eagle attempt, and his 4-footer for birdie. A hole later his broom-handle putter let him down again, this time from 7 feet for par.
Scott would finish with a 76, completing a 3-over-par weekend to finish alone in third place behind Bradley, who also endured a sloppy start (he was 3 over through three holes) but pulled to within a shot when Every bogeyed the last.
From what is considered in these parts the “Tiger putt,” the spot about 30 feet left of the hole at No. 18 where Woods beat Sean O’Hair in 2009, Bradley’s tying attempt remained high.
“(Caddie Steve Hale) said, ‘That’s bogey when Matt putted (at No. 18), birdie and we have a playoff.’ I was actually thinking about the Tiger putt before I putted, but I remember his breaking into the hole,” Bradley said. “I just love that moment.”
Whether Scott has a similar affinity for those types of high-pressure episodes will now be a talking point over the next two weeks in the run-up to the Masters.
His playoff victory last year at Augusta National seemed to evaporate the cloud that hung over Scott for much of his career that suggested he was too soft to win when the pressure was on.
Ending the Aussie “duck” in such dramatic fashion, however, has now given way to familiar rumblings. Recent history and short-term memories now cite Scott’s loss at the Australian Open, where he led McIlroy by four shots heading into the last lap, and now the Arnold Palmer Invitational as Exhibits A and B.
But as tough as the critics can be, it is Scott who will likely spend the next fortnight playing tag with the darkest recesses of his psyche.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be hard on yourself. Sometimes you don’t,” Scott said. “I had an opportunity here to run away with an event and really take a lot of confidence. I’m taking confidence anyway from just some good play. But some opportunities you’ve got to take.”
Four international victories, including the Masters, in the last 12 months appeared to indicate we’d seen the last of the softer side of Scott, that the days of missed opportunities and unmitigated miscues were a thing of the past.
Scott chose to look at the moment as a trophy half full, figuring only bad memories are born from painful association. But the questions, however unfair and shortsighted, will linger, at least until the Masters.