Adam Scott has vowed not to overthink his quest for the No. 1 world ranking as he tees it up in the $10 million Players Championship at Sawgrass starting tonight.
Plainly Tiger Woods will lose the mantle he has held for an astonishing 682 weeks in his career, sometime soon and possibly as early as this weekend. Woods is still recuperating from back surgery and his return to golf if some time off.
At No. 2, Scott is closest and among a cluster of four players who can seize the top ranking with a strong finish in Florida this week. His minimum requirement is tied-16th in the so-called 'fifth major', and in the most beautiful of ironies, he would have actually ascended to No. 1 had he not played this week.
That is the system, a rolling ranking that requires players to defend points they accumulated over the past two years. This week not only Scott but world No. 3 Henrik Stenson, No. 4 Bubba Watson and No. 5 Matt Kuchar all have a chance to wrest the crown from Woods, although Kuchar's assignment is the toughest. He has to win.
If Scott does not win but is inside the top 16, it will depend what the likes of Stenson, Watson and Kuchar do. It is a nice aside to one of the best and biggest tournaments of the season, at the very least.
But Scott is pragmatic. Nowadays, he is process-orientated. "I haven't been thinking about No. 1 that much, obviously,'' he told the media today. "Look, I'm here to win golf tournaments. That's been the goal, and from that you can get to No. 1 in the world if you win enough, often enough.
"I've had a couple good chances this year already and haven't been able to pull it off, not because it's been weighing on my mind, but I just wasn't sharp enough playing the last couple rounds at a few events.Like I said, I think the work since the Masters has been good, and hopefully it'sgoing to hold up this week. I would love to win this golf tournament and ascend to No. 1 that way and not just look for a position to do so.''
Scott won the Players in 2004, his breakthrough victory as a professional, although the quick ascension to greatness that was predicted for him 10 years ago did not eventuate immediately. He rose to No. 3 in the world then slumped around 2009, his worst period as a player.
"When you’re that young, you're expecting things to happen and you’re not sure how much work really goes into it,'' he said of his 2004 win. "Everything is a learning experience when you're 23. I had no understanding of how much (that win) would take out of me. My form was great to that point, and then to play bad in Atlanta and then Augusta, the confidence took a hit and it should've worked the other way.''
Still, the Australian is ambitious this week at a course where he has always played well. "I want to stamp my foot down as a big-time player,'' he said. "I did that last year (at the Masters) and I don't want 2013 to be a dream year and all downhill from there. It’s always important to play well (at Sawgrass). They assemble the best field and we all think pretty highly of the course."
Scott has not played since the Masters last month, where he was tied-14th in his defence of the green jacket. He has played just six tournaments this calendar year — with three top-10s but no wins — as he follows the routine of conserving energy for the majors that he adopted in 2011. He tees off at 1.39 Florida time (3.39 am Friday AEST) in the first round with Steve Stricker and Rickie Fowler.
There are 11 Australians in the field this week, headed by Scott, but sadly missing Jason Day, whose thumb injury forced him to withdraw.
The Players is the flagship tournament of the US Tour, played at its Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters at a course designed by Pete Dye. Sawgrass is memorable for its 17th hole, a short par-three with an island green that draws amateurs in their thousands to negotiate. The club fishes out about 120,000 golf balls a year from the pond that surrounds that big green.
THE AUSTRALIANS AT SAWGRASS