Date: December 05, 2019
Author: John Huggan @ The Australian

The tumble: Scott goes backwards in the haze

For centuries now, mothers around the world have told their children there would be days like this.

And for Adam Scott the first round of the Emirates Australian Open turned out to be one of his. Winner of the Stonehaven Cup at New South Wales a decade ago, the 39-year old Queenslander needed 75 shots to get himself round The Australian course. Only once did he make a birdie, on the final hole. And five bogeys – two of them on par-5s – represented Scott’s only other deviations from par. 

By the end, the former Masters champion was a disconsolate figure. Which was hardly surprising. Already, Scott is ten shots behind the leaders.

“I’d like a full-body cleanse after that,” he said with a rueful smile. “I was out of sorts out there. I lost my rhythm after the first hole. I hit two nice shots there but missed the birdie putt. Then I really struggled on the rest of the front-nine. I hit some really bad drives to the left. And I didn’t scramble. I just didn’t play very well.”

Indeed, this was something of a horror show for one so obviously talented. Only underlining the unexpected nature of the world number-15’s lack of touch is the fact that it comes at the end of a year in which Scott has eight times found his way into the top-ten at PGA Tour events. Two of those were runner-up finishes. So it’s not as if his descent into a spot outside the top-100 is just the latest episode in a sequence of failure, although he did come to Sydney after not playing competitively for four weeks. No one – certainly not Scott – saw this coming.

“I hope this was just rust,” he continued. “I was feeling a bit better towards the end there. But it is hard to put it right back in the slot when you are out there. I need a quick start tomorrow. Starting on the 10th here is a bit easier than starting on the first. Much more friendly. Hopefully, I can get that good start and be in red figures by the end of the day. 

“My swing today felt really quick from the top. My thought was to clear my hips but I think I was clearing everything but. I just didn’t have a lot of feeling. This course doesn’t give you a lot of room on your start-lines and I paid the price. I can turn things round though. I have an idea where the ball is going now. My target is to shoot under par for every nine holes over the next three days. And if I throw in one really low nine I might be somewhere near the mark.”

Only exacerbating the 2009 champion’s overall dismay was the presence of Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey alongside him in the high-profile 11.50am starting time. Both broke par, Casey’s bogey-free 68 two shots better than Garcia and a direct contrast to Scott’s travails. 

As you’d expect, Casey was the most cheerful at close of play. Given his aggressive style of play, a bogey-free round is not something the world number-14 – he is the highest-ranked player in the field – is known for particularly. But today he did the things top players do to minimise their mistakes. He drove particularly well. And his short game was good enough to rescue any errors in his approach play. Still, he was aware that more than the equivalent of three birdies each day – he made one and an eagle alongside 16 pars – will be required if he is to challenge for the title. 

“It was tough out there, but I feel more for those who are right next to the fires,” he said in reference to the smoky-haze that currently hangs over the course. “So you’re not going to hear me complain about it. Apart from stinging eyes it had no effect on our golf.

“The highlight of my round was the shot that led to the eagle on the 14th. Tidy wasn’t it? This is a tricky course though. And the slowest greens I’ve ever putted on down here. Which is fine. The greens don’t have to be that fast on this course because of the amount of pitch on them. But we all struggled with the pace. Plus, you have to put the ball in the right spots. I did a pretty good job of that although I only had maybe three birdie-chances in the first 12 holes. The pin positions were tricky.”

For many others more than himself. Don’t be fooled. The smile that almost never left Casey’s face at the end of his round told its own story. He may be no better than T-6, but he was clearly happy with his play and day. As such he represents perhaps the biggest threat to the six men higher on the leader board.