JUST when we thought a bit of clarity was about to be delivered, the countdown to the opening major of the season, The Masters, has become even more of a guddle.
To the injury worries of both Tiger Woods, the world No 1 and four-times Green Jacket recipient, and Jason Day, a WGC winner this year and close in recent years to pulling on golf’s most prized garment, add a sore one for Adam Scott.
Seven shots clear at halfway and three ahead with a round to go, the Australian stumbled to a closing 76 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to finish third as American Matt Every claimed his first PGA Tour title.
It was a disappointment for Scott, especially so close to his defence of that Masters crown – the action gets under way at Augusta National a fortnight on Thursday – and cost him a chance of toppling Woods as the game’s top-ranked player in time for that.
How predictable and unfair, though, that the events in Orlando at the weekend have led to Scott being labelled as a “choker”, surprisingly it must be said, even by some media outlets back in his homeland.
Yes, of course, what happened to him at Lytham in 2012, when he squandered a four-shot lead with four holes to play to lose out to Ernie Els in the Open Championship, is something that is still fairly fresh in some minds. It won’t be exorcised, at least for them, either, unless he can make amends by claiming the Claret Jug one day.
Give the guy a break, though, for goodness sake because, if Scott had been left scarred by that harrowing experience, then he wouldn’t have been able to come up with some of the defining shots in last year’s Masters.
Having long been awaiting the chance – along with a couple of friends who were also at Augusta for the first time last year – to watch the official tournament DVD (which, incidentally, refers to Scottish broadcasting legend Renton Laidlaw being “English” in the section that records him receiving a lifetime achievement award), I finally got round to doing so recently and there was nothing in that footage to suggest that Scott lacks the nerve required to close out the big events. What was interesting, though, is that it wasn’t until almost at the death that his name jumped to the top of the leaderboard, first Angel Cabrera then the aforementioned Day looking as though they could secure the spoils before Scott came up on the rails.
It took guts, nonetheless, to be able to switch on again after thinking he’d won in regular time after holing that monster putt across the last green only to find himself involved in a play-off as Cabrera hit his approach virtually stiff a few minutes later.
If Scott was, indeed, a bottler, he’d have lost that shoot-out to the more experienced Argentinean. Cabrera, after all, already had two majors to his name, including the 2009 Masters. He didn’t and, in doing so, became one of the most popular winners in the game’s history.
Indeed, I was reminded why just a few weeks back when, in the countdown to The Masters, Scott conducted a conference call from his home in Bahamas with a group of golf writers and provided a wonderful insight about his time as Australia’s first winner of that event.
“We are all lucky to have him associated with this sport,” declared Steve Ethun, Augusta National’s director of communications, of the 2002 Diageo winner at Gleneagles in reply to an email from this correspondent thanking him for fixing up the said interview – and that, for me, is far more important as Scott prepares to defend his title than what happened over the final 36 holes at Bay Hill.
As Bob Harig, a respected American colleague, observed in the wake of him opening the door and eventually losing out to Every, Scott probably doesn’t deserve now to head back up Magnolia Drive as the new world No 1, but, at the same time, does Woods still deserve to be the game’s top-ranked player given the mediocrity we’ve seen from him so far this year?
It’s why Rory McIlroy is favourite for The Masters with just about every bookmaker out there and it’s only a matter of time, really, before he wins for the first time in 2014 if he continues to drive the ball so majestically. But, if your money is on Scott, don’t start thinking it’s a bad investment. In fact, what happened at the weekend, including some of what has been said in the aftermath, might well turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the defending champion.