John Huggan: Scott sets sights on being world No.1

Adam Scott. Picture: Getty
Adam Scott. Picture: Getty
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AS FAR as extended sporting futility is concerned, it never quite reached the level of despair still being felt by Hibs in the Scottish Cup or the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

But the inability of Australians to win the Masters Tournament was, for long enough, one of golf’s most enduring mysteries. Reared on the strategic subtleties of their country’s best course, the Alister Mackenzie-designed Royal Melbourne, the men from Down Under were perennially and strangely ineffective at Augusta National, another Mackenzie masterpiece.

They came close, of course: many times, in fact. But it never happened. Not even when Greg Norman – perhaps the greatest Australian golfer of all – began the final round of the 1996 Masters with a six-shot lead. Suddenly more “Beached Whale” than “Great White Shark”, Norman eventually lost by five to Nick Faldo, after which a proud nation mourned what remains the ultimate on-course disaster.

Still, all bad things must eventually come to an end. And so it came to pass in 2013. When Queensland’s Adam Scott famously holed from maybe 12 feet on the second hole of a sudden-death play-off with Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, the Aussies’ Masters hoodoo was finally over.

Since that momentous day, seven months have elapsed, but the level of Antipodean euphoria has barely abated. And, with Scott making his first trip home wearing the iconic Green Jacket, it has, if anything, been reignited. Today, the 33-year-old will complete his final round in the Australian Masters, the second of four consecutive events in his homeland.

“One of us winning the [US] Masters was like reaching the last frontier for Australia,” says 2006 US Open winner Geoff Ogilvy, Scott’s closest friend on tour. “We won the Tour de France a couple of years ago [Cadel Evans in 2011]. And we’ve won all the tennis majors and many Olympic gold medals. But Adam’s victory was massive for the whole country.

“What made it extra special is the fact that it was so weird that no Aussie had ever won at Augusta. Greg Norman could have won five on his own, but didn’t. And there have been other near misses. So this was such a cool achievement by the right guy at the right time. He’s a perfect role model for kids. He’s such a class guy, a nice person and does everything in the right way.

“Ironically, Adam under-achieved for a long time in the majors. Not many people have won more than 20 times in a career, but until two or three years ago he wasn’t doing it in the majors. That has changed now. He’s figured out what is best for him. And now, after Tiger [Woods] and Phil [Mickelson], he’s the first guy talked about before every major. Which will be the case for a few years yet.”

Ogilvy is spot-on in his assessment of his pal. If golf is searching for a more appropriate role model than the cursing, expectorating and increasingly irritable Woods, then Scott is perhaps the ideal candidate.

“Adam is so popular here and everywhere,” says former European Tour professional Mike Clayton, a native of Melbourne. “Which makes his homecoming a bigger deal. There’s a lot of warmth out there for him. He’s a bit like Pat Rafter in that respect. He was loved in the same way during his tennis career. Of course, it’s not that hard to be popular in Australia if you are humble and self-deprecating and good-looking. Adam ticks all of those boxes.

“He’s such a nice man too. He’s quiet. He doesn’t say outrageous things. And he’s a beautiful golfer to watch. He was the ‘right’ Australian to win the Masters in that sense. I’m not sure too many others would have come back and played here for four weeks like Adam is doing. But it is the right thing to do. We need our big stars to come here and play. And Adam is our best player right now. His being here is a huge boost to all the events.”

It didn’t hurt either that Scott won last week’s Australian PGA Championship. OK, the field wasn’t the strongest or deepest, but he won in some style from American Rickie Fowler, all the while fending off an endless stream of questions about his Masters victory. Characteristically, however, he is taking them all in his sizeable stride.

“I think all the Aussie golfers who play overseas feel a sense of responsibility to play at least one event back here every year and try to help out where we can,” he says. “I think we all have the same belief in that. But I knew that winning the Masters was a big deal back here and I felt it was a great opportunity to try and do something a little extra.

“I want to help golf and the tour here as much as I can. And playing is the best way I know of doing that, at the moment anyway. So playing four in a row was not really a hard decision. I was sleeping in my own bed last week and now I get two weeks at Royal Melbourne [for the Australian Masters and the World Cup], which is a rare treat. Then I get to play in the Australian Open at Royal Sydney. So it is not like it is a very tough four weeks. I’m really enjoying it.”

For all his inherent modesty, Scott – already No.2 in the world rankings – has his eyes set on moving even higher. Following his Masters win, he has contended strongly in two of the three subsequent majors. His disastrous finish in the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham has seemingly been put to bed. Lest we forget, four consecutive bogeys over the last four holes saw him lose by one shot to Ernie Els.

“When I am asked about it, the possibility of being world number one does enter my mind,” Scott admits. “It would be the fulfilment of a wild childhood dream. My focus for so long has just been to win tournaments and majors – being number one was basically unattainable. I sat and watched Tiger amass double the points of the second-placed guy, so I never really considered it.

“I do now though. I have never been closer than I am now. If I keep working the way I have been and performing the way I have been, it is possible to get there. I certainly don’t feel I am far off being the best player in the world at the moment.”

Just as importantly, Scott is one of the nicest and most genuine individuals on any tour, one well aware of his wider responsibilities.

“I am enjoying how many kids are watching me,” he says. “If I can inspire them to want to play golf and be like Adam Scott then that is great. But it’s not just me. There are a bunch of us. Geoff Ogilvy is a major champion. Jason Day is playing great golf. So we can all carry Australian golf forward.”

Still, any and every Australian youngster could do worse than emulate the amiable Scott. As he said in the immediate aftermath of the winning putt at Augusta: “Come on Aussie.”