ARDMORE, Pa. — Adam Scott can understand why so many people thought he would have a hard time getting over his epic collapse in the British Open.
They didn’t understand his master plan of trying to get better instead of just trying to get better results.
Ernie Els walked away from Royal Lytham & St. Annes with a silver claret jug. Scott walked away believing he finally was capable of winning a major, and it wasn’t just a pep talk to soothe the shock over losing a four-shot lead with four holes to play.
“I think if I sat there and watched someone else do what I did, it would have been devastating,” Scott said Monday. “It’s maybe more apparent to me now that you were all surprised that I wasn’t just shattered. But honestly, that’s not how I felt.”
In a decision that reshaped his career, Scott decided two years ago to play a limited schedule and practice smarter so that he would be ready for the biggest events. That Sunday afternoon at the British Open, despite the ugly finish, showed him he was on the right track. He promised that day the next time — and he was certain there would be a next time — he would finish the job.
Scott’s story had a happy ending.
At his hideaway in the Bahamas, the Australian starts each day by slipping on the green jacket he won at Augusta National two months ago, when he made a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and then another birdie in the rain on the second playoff hole to win the Masters.
Except that Scott doesn’t see this as the end. He is among the favorites when the U.S. Open begins Thursday at Merion. Scott will be part of the feature group the opening two rounds, playing alongside Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world ranking.
Scott has been part of this routine before. The first time the USGA put together the top three players in the world was at Torrey Pines in 2008 — Woods and San Diego native Mickelson at 1 and 2, and Scott feeling very much out of place.
“I think anyone would have felt like the third wheel that week,” Scott said. “Remembering back to Torrey Pines, the hype was enormous around that pairing. There was so much talk about it being Phil’s hometown and Tiger dominating Torrey for years. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
“I’m probably also the third wheel this week, as well,” Scott said with a laugh.
Woods still drives the show in golf, already a four-time winner on tour this year as he tries to end his five-year drought in the majors. McIlroy, a major champion each of the last two years, is in one of his slumps and has yet to win this year.
Scott, meanwhile, is trying to join some elite company. Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan are the only players in the last 60 years to have won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season.
And while every Masters champion has that opportunity, Scott is good enough to make the quest realistic.
“I can’t lie to you — I do feel a lot better coming here, even discussing that kind of thing,” Scott said. “It’s a good feeling to come here to know that I’ve achieved that. I’ve got my first major. And my sights are definitely set on trying to win more.”
The biggest star could be Merion, hosting the U.S. Open for the first time since 1981. And the course at the moment is sharing the stage with Mother Nature.
Merion received more than 3 inches of rain on Friday, which left it unplayable Saturday. Even as players were getting started Monday morning, more sheets of rain began to fall. Some of the bunkers were flooded, and the course was closed until 11 a.m. A little more than three hours later, the rain returned.
The only activity on the course was workers using squeegees to remove small pools of water from the greens and some fairways. The thick rough was wet, mangled and muddied. Even as players tried a third time to practice, dark clouds loomed and more rain was on the way.
Woods returned to hit pitch shots from short of the 18th green. There wasn’t much work to get in. Scott had wanted to play seven rounds at Merion leading to the U.S. Open, so he was glad he showed up a week ago.
“I’ve had three full rounds, and that’s taken my time trying to figure everything out,” Scott said. “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea where I’m going to try to go. Obviously with it being a little soft, it becomes a little more simple than what it was. The ball is just going to stop where it lands. So if you’re accurate, you’ll be fine.”
The change in Scott came early in the 2011 season, when he was frustrated with the direction of his game, especially in the majors. Even though he reached as high as No. 3 in the world, he never seriously challenged in the Grand Slam events. He huddled with his swing coach and longtime friend Brad Malone and mapped out a plan.
“He has been so influential in so many decisions of mine, and I think it’s been helpful because he knows me well as a person as well as knowing my golf swing very well,” Scott said. “He could see the frustration, so he just essentially eliminated things that frustrated me and made everything a positive. Just set things up so golf was incredibly enjoyable for me, and I was getting better all the time.”
Scott paid more attention to improving than his scores. He was more frustrated by his runner-up finish in the 2011 Masters than his meltdown at Royal Lytham because he controlled the tournament for 68 holes in the British Open.
And if Angel Cabrera had chipped in on the first playoff hole to win the Masters?
“They’re tough pills to swallow, but that’s golf,” Scott said. “Just because you get close once doesn’t mean you’re going to get another one. And that was something that I was very conscious of the last four holes at Augusta. I stood there on the 15th fairway and said, ‘You’re two back and no one is going to give this to you today. You’re going to have to do something.’ You’re owed nothing in golf. You really just have to go and get it.”