Date: December 06, 2009

Scott takes lead ahead of Sunday battle

By John Huggan The Americans like to call round three of any tournament, moving day, but for a number of those in contention after two rounds of this Australian Open at the stunning New South Wales course, a day for redemption is surely a more appropriate title. For the likes of Stuart Appleby, Adam Scott, Scott Hend, Nick O Hern, Jarrod Lyle and Peter O Malley, 2009 has been a year of almost unremitting disappointment form, fitness and tour cards amongst the things going astray for the luckless group. (And let s not even get into the depths to which former Open and USPGA champion John Daly s career has plummeted more than once). Top of that list, of course, is halfway leader and 2001 Australian Open champion, Appleby, who has endured a nightmare season to forget on America s PGA Tour. By way of illustration, the Victorian, five times a Presidents Cup player, dropped more than 100 places in the World Rankings, saw his US tour earnings drop by almost $2m compared with 2008 and will play next season on a mixture of invitations and past-champion exemptions. I got into some bad habits, shrugs the eight-time PGA Tour winner. Which happens. And sometimes those habits are cancerous and take time to get rid of. It’s a vicious circle really. You end up as a guy who reacts to every shot, versus one who has a long-range plan. I know every golfer will be able to relate to what that is like. I started picking things up, building confidence then losing it all in one round. It has been a real emotional rollercoaster. I was starting to play golf swing rather than golf. And it wasn t really until the end of the season that I started to see real improvement. The same can be said for Appleby s closest challenger after 36-holes. Despite arriving at La Perouse on the back of three encouraging and consecutive top-ten finishes around the world, for Scott 2009 has been a year of toil and strife. The numbers, sadly, don t lie. In 19 PGA Tour appearances, the former Players champion missed as many as ten cuts; only twice in his first two starts back in January did he crack the top-20. Such form, it goes without saying, is nothing short of ridiculous in one so obviously talented. Five years ago, we all felt like Adam would have won a few majors by now, concedes Scott s former coach, Butch Harmon. And I think he feels that way too. But he puts too much pressure on himself. He knows he should be doing well at the majors and he hasn t, apart from a couple of times. He knows that, so when he gets to a major he puts even more pressure on himself than he needs to. The Australian Open isn t a major, of course, but for all Aussies it is the next best thing. Which is why Appleby and Scott were no doubt expecting stiff challenges from compatriots like Hend, Lyle and O Hern, all of who have battled through disappointment of various hues over the last 12 months and so were hardly lacking incentive to progress up the leaderboard. As things turned out, of course, not all of those with something to prove played well. But one certainly did. While the pursuers fell back or, at best, maintained their positions, Scott performed with much of his old panache and poise to shoot a near immaculate five under par 67 that was spoiled only by a brace of bogeys at the 15th and 16th holes. At last, fairways and greens replaced toil and strife as the 29-year old Queenslander marched towards what would be his first professional victory in his homeland. In contrast, Appleby fought back well from an unsteady start bogeys at three of the first seven holes – to shoot a gritty 71. On 13 under the card, he is but two shots behind Scott going into the final round. Even better, with no one else within seven shots of the distant leader, we have a good old-fashioned shoot-out between two of Australia s finest on our hands. The climax to La Perouse s first Australian Open deserves nothing less.