Date: March 24, 2014
Author: Martin Blake /

Scott fails to close, but Augusta beckons

Adam Scott has a problem, if being No. 2 in the world and the defending Masters champion can be considered a problem. He is having issues closing out tournaments, and the ghosts of Royal Lytham in 2012 have begun to haunt him, so it seems. His nerve is failing him. Scott&aposs last-day fade-out at Bay Hill in the Arnold Palmer Invitational was spectacularly Normanesque, the Australian mimicking the fatal flaws of his mentor, the Shark. Starting the final day with a three-shot lead he carded 76, with five bogeys, leaving the way open for 30-year-old local boy Matt Every to win. Scott could not make a putt and eventually his lasering long game deserted him too. The final insult was at the par-five 16th, when he hit two pure shots to five metres above the hole with a putt for eagle. Every had overhauled him in the middle stretch of the round, but playing in the group ahead, the American, three shots ahead, had bogeyed the 16th after driving into the trees on the left. This was Scott&aposs opportunity after he appeared to have blown it earlier. But his slippery putt down the slop for eagle slid by the hole, then he pulled the putt for birdie, a three-putt at the worst possible moment, just as frailty with the long putter had struck him down on the 16th at Lytham in 2012. Another bogey at the par-three 17th followed after he tee shot found the front trap, but it was not just the closing stretch that bothered him; he was well below his best all day. In fact, his tournament was divided into two halves. He was 14-under-par for the first two rounds and three-over for the weekend. Through 17 holes of the second round he led this tournament by eight shots, but he could not hang on from there. It is a nasty familiar feeling for Scott. At Royal Lytham in 2012 he led the British Open Championship by four shots with just four holes to play and made four consecutive bogeys to gift the Open to Ernie Els; at Royal Sydney last December he started with 62 and led throughout, going right to the 18th hole before taking bogey and watching Rory McIlroy birdie to win the Emirates Australian Open. Every, the world No. 94, played superbly other than for a bogey at the tricky 18th, waiting for Scott and Keegan Bradley to come up the 18th, where Bradley could have forced a playoff with a birdie. When Bradley missed from long range, Every had his second win as a professional and his first on the PGA Tour in 93 starts. As for Scott, plainly Lytham has left him with scars relating to playing as the leader, issues that bounced up at Royal Sydney, a tournament with eerie similarities to Bay Hill. Having said that, he did win the Masters just a few months after Lytham. And every golfer will say it is tough to lead from wire to wire. This is the confounded way of the game. Scott is contending week-after-week, and he won five times around the world last year including his first major. This season he has a string of top-10 finishes (his worst result is 25th) following his best-ever year in 2013. It is why he has climbed within touching distance of Tiger Woods&apos No. 1 world ranking, a mantle he has never held and one that was out of reach for much of his career owing to Woods&apos pre-eminence. Perhaps there is something in that. Johnny Miller suggested today that Scott was feeling the pressure of having a chance of taking the No. 1 ranking, and it is a plausible theory. Had he won at Bay Hill, he would have assumed the top ranking in two weeks time as the tournaments roll through, assuming that Woods does not play before Augusta (and he has no plans to do so). Scott has made no secret of the fact he is embracing the chase, and he was breathtakingly close this week. But the hunt continues for now. The Masters is only two weeks away, and Scott is a more resilient character than he is given credit for. The way he came back after Lytham showed that he can move forward and keep the game in proper perspective. Top level golf is about getting yourself in contention, putting your head on the block. Sometimes, it is hacked off, and sometimes you prosper. Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors but finished second another 19 times, and he is the greatest. Scott will still be No. 2 behind Woods when he wakes up tomorrow, but the world&aposs No. 1 is hobbled by disc bulge in the back and not even 100 percent certain of playing at Augusta, so the door is ajar. Of course, we will all be covering our eyes the next time Scott tries to close out a tournament down the stretch, especially if it is at Augusta. But that is the nature of golf. It is not a game of perfect.