If Adam Scott was trying to forget about what happened in last year’s British Open before embarking on his 2013 major season, his early Masters Tournament prep wasn’t the method you’d expect.
Scott invited Ernie Els to join him on his early scouting trip to Augusta National Golf Club. There’s obviously no hard feelings about Els’ claiming the Claret Jug that seemed destined for the Australian at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
“Probably the fact that a guy that I’m friends with and really like beat me helped me rather than someone that I’m not so friendly with,” said Scott, who bogeyed the final four holes at Lytham to open the door for Els’ fourth major win. “He just had really kind words to say after and we haven’t really talked about it much. There’s really not much to say. That’s the way some golf tournaments go.”
As excited as Els was to break his own 10-year major drought, he regretted that it came at the expense of one of the most likeable players in golf.
“I regard Scotty as one of my best friends and one of the most talented players of his generation,” Els said. “It’ll be so cool for him to win a major soon after what happened to him last year.”
Scott has long been considered one of the elite young stars in the game, ever since tying for ninth in his first Masters in 2002.
“It was probably blind luck the first one out and didn’t know all the difficult bits,” he said.
His Players Championship victory in 2004 forecasted big things. But it’s been in the last two years that Scott finally hit his long-awaited stride on the biggest venues – coinciding with both his conversion to the long putter and his partnership with veteran caddie Steve Williams, who was on the bag for 13 of Tiger Woods’ major wins.
Scott has posted seven top-25 finishes in the last eight majors – four of them top-10s, including runner-up efforts in the 2011 Masters and ’12 British.
“Hopefully I’m just starting that run,” said the 32-year-old Scott. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of good years left to play and this is just the start. I’ve got some of that experience now. I’ve been in contention and feel like my game’s always at a point where I can get into contention every time I play.”
That top-10 in his first Masters start seemed to indicate a natural affinity for Augusta National. But a string of good-but-not-great finishes kept him off most lists of Augusta favorites.
Then in 2010 he posted his first top-20 finish since his debut, with a final round that included a pair of eagles. It rekindled the notion that Scott had the game to win there.
“The course sets up great for me with the added length now, and driving is my strong suit,” he said. “But I think my short game has improved a lot the last couple of years and I believe that has been the difference to all those years before. 2010 was a bit of a breakthrough and I felt like I played really well around there and showed myself that I can have a good score and can compete. Then the next two years I kind of put everything together and was playing nicely.”
Scott looked poised to break through as the first Australian winner in 2011, before Charl Schwartzel closed with four consecutivebirdies to secure the green jacket. Last year, he tied for eighth with a final-round 66 that included an ace on No. 16.
He’s eager to return.
“It’s what everyone looks forward to and it’s obvious that we’re all itching to get up there,” he said. “Eight months has gone by since the PGA. I was having a really great run and playing some good golf last year in the majors and my last two years at Augusta have been really fantastic for me. I’m looking to just keep that momentum going forward there this year and hopefully get myself in the position that I was in in 2011.”
The scouting trip with Els is all part of his preparation plan. Scott will come back fresh after three off weeks with the only competition being a two-day exhibition at the Tavistock Cup. But seeing the course with Els established a foundation for his work in those three weeks.
“It’s more about just getting your head into what to go home and practice for and what to expect up there,” he said of Augusta. “We go every year but it’s nice to kind of refresh the memory. They make these subtle changes that everyone talks about and have a look at them, but it’s nice to get it fresh in your mind what you’re going to be facing in a few weeks’ time. To see the shots and remind yourself the severity of the lies in the fairway and the serious slope out there. Have it all in your mind so there’s no surprises once you show up that week.”