From the midpoint of his first round of the Emirates Australian Open, Adam Scott knew that he had no room for error, beyond the odd glitch. He was five-over par through nine holes on that opening day, playing some unfamiliar golf, spraying the ball around, and although he reeled back two shots on the back nine to keep himself in contention, he was always chasing.
Scott actually was within a shot of the lead when he rolled in a birdie putt on the par-three second hole at The Australian today. But he still had no buffer zone, and a bogey from the front trap at the fourth hole followed by a flared drive into knee deep grass to the right of the fifth fairway were the moments when his momentum disappeared.
At the fifth, he used his long putter to extract the five metres or so of grace that he needed to take a penalty drop out in the light rough, but his next shot was tugged left under a row of pine trees, meaning that he needed to punch his fourth shot under the branches and up to the green. When that shot scuttled across the left side of the putting surface and stopped behind the back left of the green, he was unravelling. He took double bogey seven at a hole he would expect to birdie, and in the meantime, the American Jordan Spieth, playing in the final group, was producing a scorching hot round.
Scott never gave up. He birdied the downwind sixth after a beautiful lob wedge shot in close, nearly knocked the pin out with his second at the seventh (although he missed the opportunity with the putter) and produced a rare birdie at the long, upwind par-four eighth with a great iron shot to within two metres of the flag. There were only three birdies there all day.
But Spieth kept making birdies and Scott flared a short iron shot up the hill beside the green at the par-four 13th and made a bogey, cussing himself under his breath. By the time he chipped and putted for birdie at the par-five 18th, he had a 71 on his card, even-par for the day, and was fifth in the tournament behind Spieth, who played one of the great tournament rounds in Australian golf history.
"I wasn't too far back, not at all,'' he said. "I thought I was a chance going into the back nine but Jordan's back nine is incredible and that took care of that.''
Scott said his game was in good shape. "I've played some solid golf, considering I've got off to fairly poor starts in both (Australian) tournaments, I've played fairly well other than that.''
Say what you like about him, about the long putter or the quirky Aimpoint Express green-reading system he uses, but Scott is remarkably consistent. He lipped out with a putt that most likely would have put him into a playoff at the Australian Masters this week, and he is top-five again this week.
He has the Australian PGA at Royal Pines to complete a season in which he ascended to No. 1 in the world momentarily, the first Australian to do so since Greg Norman.
"I'll be ready for the PGA,'' he said "Of course, it's disappointing to walk down the last winning the last couple of weeks, but it'll be nice to defend the PGA.''