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Scott moves into contention in Tampa with second-round 66

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PALM HARBOR, Fla. – His broomstick putter pressed confidently against his sternum, his chipping motion shored up after a breakthrough session, Adam Scott boasted Friday that his short game never has been better. For a guy who plays by his own schedule – this is his fourth and final start before the Masters – his timing couldn’t be more ideal.

Why so confident with his wedges? It stems from a three-hour short-game session in January at Sanctuary Cove in Australia. There, he worked through an entire shag bag of balls, striking each chip with the same weight and feel. Controlled. Consistent. Afterward, he thought to himself, “I think that’s the best bunch of chips I’ve ever hit.”


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Scott doesn’t miss many greens – in fact, the Aussie has missed only 10 so far this week at Innisbrook, just a few days after bludgeoning the Blue Monster on the weekend, shooting 68-64 to vault into a tie for third – but perhaps even more important, he’s equipped with this: the knowledge that his short game is no longer a liability.

“It’s reassuring to know that you don’t have to hit a perfect shot every time,” he said. “You can go for your shot a little bit and the short game will be there to back you up.”

That wasn’t always the case, of course. In 2009, during one of his worst seasons as a pro, Scott’s long-game struggles began to affect his short game. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Whatever the case, his ball-striking failures put too much stress on his short game. And when he couldn’t scramble his way to a good score, it put even more stress on his long game to hit it close.

“Eventually, if it’s not relieved,” Scott said, “it’s all going to break down.”

The switch to the long putter came first, in February 2011. But his wedge game – and in particular, his chipping and putting – demanded his undivided attention this offseason.

After another ball-striking clinic Friday in which he hit 14 greens at Innisbrook’s tree-lined Copperhead Course, Scott was delighted by a bogey-free 66 that left him one shot back of PGA Tour rookie Shawn Stefani heading into the weekend at the Tampa Bay Championship.

“I’m not missing many greens,” Scott said, “but it’s nice when you miss a couple that you feel really confident that you can walk up there and get it up-and-down.”

Save for the Tavistock Cup, a two-day exhibition outside Orlando, this represents Scott’s fourth and final start before teeing it up at the Masters. Those aren’t many competitive reps, but it actually represents an improvement from last year, when he made only three appearances before showing up for the year’s first major (T-8).

“The kind of schedule I play,” he said, “it’s important to play well every time I play.”

That hasn’t been an issue of late. Since the start of 2011, Scott has finished in the top 10 in nearly half (20 of 42) of his worldwide starts. But this time of year always brings more urgency. As it were, Scott flew to Georgia on Tuesday for a scouting trip at Augusta National. His guide for the day was Ernie Els.

Awkward? Not in the least.

Ever since he bogeyed four consecutive holes at Royal Lytham to hand the Open trophy to Els, Scott has maintained that he was happy for his good friend and would view his experience there as nothing but a success. “It’s a highlight for me last year,” he said Friday.

Scar tissue from such a dramatic meltdown is always a concern, but Scott thinks he has made the proper strides. Just a few weeks after the Open, he pieced together a T-11 at the PGA. A few months later, he won the Talisker Masters in Australia.

And here he is, a 19-time worldwide winner armed with a revamped short game, and he’s one shot off the lead, in serious contention for his first PGA Tour title in 20 months … and with another major championship just a month away.

“I feel like now’s my time,” Scott said of his major prospects. “It’s up to me to make it happen. I’ve gotten my game to a point where I feel like I’m right there. Hopefully I can get the first one and then we’ll see. But everyone takes a different path.'