Chipping his way toward the elite

Published March 23, 2005

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - It was the kind of shot that can do more than simply ruin the day.

How about the rest of the year? The rest of a career?

Hitting the ball in the one place you absolutely cannot hit it with a prestigious tournament title on the line has a way of lingering in the minds of players who have plenty of time to think.

Adam Scott saved himself from the mental demons that torment golfers when he recovered from his horrific 6-iron shot to the 18th green at the TPC-Sawgrass a year ago.

That was the one that splashed into the water and momentarily had everyone remembering the infamous meltdowns of another Aussie golfer.

Scott, who had a two-shot lead and was in the middle of the fairway before misfiring, managed to get up and down from the edge of the water for a bogey - holing a 10-foot putt - and a one-shot victory over Padraig Harrington at the Players Championship.

"After that 6-iron went in the water, I think it was more about how I reacted mentally than how I hit a chip or how I hit the putt," Scott said on Tuesday, a day of practice for the $8-million tournament that begins Thursday. "It would have been pretty easy to screw the whole thing up. It was quite a tough chip and a lot of pressure and one of the biggest events of the year on the line and somehow I managed to get my head around it and figure out I've still got a chip and a putt to win."

There was a certain amount of irony to the entire situation. Scott had worked extensively with Greg Norman, his countryman and idol, that week on various chipping techniques.

Norman, of course, is known as much for the heartbreaking way he lost tournaments as he is for all of his worldwide success.

"The response showed the character of the guy," Nick Price said. "We can't afford those kinds of mistakes out here, but that would have affected a lesser talent. And Adam has everything it takes to be a truly great player."

It is easy to forget that Scott is just 24 and has three PGA Tour titles, along with another three on the PGA European Tour. His totals do not include a win last month at the Nissan Open, which was considered unofficial because the tournament was shortened to 36 holes.

The Players, however, remains his biggest win.

"The history of the place and the drama that's gone on here and the strength of the field, the golf course, everything about this, makes this tournament stand out," Scott said. "And I think all the players know that and they call it the fifth major. It's a big deal to all of us."

Scott, whose swing is eerily similar to the action of Tiger Woods and who is schooled by Woods' former instructor, Butch Harmon, has seemingly been destined for greatness since his amateur days in Australia.

From there, it has been a worldwide journey to stardom. Scott went to UNLV for a year of college golf, then secured a European Tour card for the 2001 season. He lives in Crans sur Sierre, Switzerland, but plays a full schedule on the PGA Tour as well as in Europe.

He has risen to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and some are wondering when he might challenge the likes of Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen for a spot among the top five.

"I don't believe I'm in that class," he said. "I think maybe one day I can get there, for sure. I think I'm on a pretty good path toward that. But those guys are playing on a different level from most of us.

"For me, it's probably just getting a little tougher and not giving away as many cheap shots on the course, and that's what I think I see with those guys. They somehow manage to make 4 out of 5 and they do it a couple of shots a round."

Scott knows all about it. He tried to give it away, and then salvaged it all on the final hole last year.