Think about the ramifications of Adam Scott’s collapse at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s:
- Four consecutive bogeys to blow a four-stroke lead with four holes could leave permanent, or at least years-lasting, psychological scars and prevent Scott from ever winning a Major.
- The “Curse of the 54-Hole Lead” struck again, as it has now in all three 2012 Majors – including Peter Hanson’s Saturday night lead at Augusta National, and Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell’s Saturday night co-lead at Olympic Club. The third-round leader at next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island will thrash at his bed sheets all Saturday eve.
- And perhaps most impactful, Scott’s collapse denied caddie Steve Williams the gorilla dunk of gloats, a Major win in old boss Tiger Woods’ face. Rumour was, had Scott cruised home to victory, Williams planned the old Leslie Nielsen/Enrico Palazzo “Naked Gun” moonwalk-into-splits dance routine coming up the 18th fairway at Lytham.
Alas. No moonwalk-into-splits for “Stevie”.
Speaking of Tiger Woods, turns out he can’t handle weekends at majors anymore, either. His 70-73 weekend means the 14-time Major champion is now plus-13 on his six weekend rounds at majors this year. This is the ultimate Sunday winner we’re talking about. This is Tiger Woods. And he hasn’t broken 70 on a weekend at a Major.
This is our larger point today, golf fans. What happened to Adam Scott has happened to so many others because there are so few stone-cold killers – if any – remaining on the golf scene since Tiger scattered a decade of challenger carcasses across the landscape. The most quoted statistic in Tiger’s world – that all of his 14 Majors have come with at least a share of the 54-hole lead – means that nobody ever closed the deal like Tiger. For a decade, we got spoiled. If we thought that closer quality could transfer to guys like Adam Scott – gifted with a supremely beautiful golf swing, even temperament, ball-striking par excellence – we were wrong. Turns out it’s hard. Really hard. And guys like Adam Scott have never learned how to do it, mostly because Tiger was squirreling away Majors while they collected meaningless top-25s.
Scott’s collapse barreled down on Lytham like one of those trains that runs by the first hole there. It hung over the scene like one of those ever-present storm clouds from the nearby Irish Sea. He’s a classic product of the Tiger Era – a player so talented, you’d think he’d own a handful of majors; but a guy who arrived on the scene in the early 2000s, just when Tiger was snuffing out every player who came his way.
Scott is the classic case of the also-ran generation from Tiger’s dominance. While Scott is so good, he still got his wins – a 2004 Players Championship, a 2006 Tour Championship, and last year’s World Golf Championship at Firestone (remember Steve Williams’ celebration?) – one wondered when he’d get a Major.
By hiring Williams as his caddie, he seemed serious about the quest, too. Williams is deeply unpopular with the media, and after his insensitive remarks about Tiger at a banquet earlier this year, not exactly in the running for “Sportsman of the Year”. But by hiring Williams, Scott was hiring the best, a guy who’d ridden shotgun with Tiger for 13 major championships, and a guy who’d know how to calm his player down on Sunday back nines, and a guy who’d know how to club him under major championship pressure.
And when Scott made birdie on the 14th hole to extend his lead to four shots, and walked over to Williams greenside, the smile on Williams’ face said it all: We’re relaxed, mate. We’re doing this, mate. And if you want to talk New Zealand rugby or Aussie Rules Football, let’s do it, mate – because you’re about to be Open champion.
Except, it all went wrong.
After a bogey from a bunker on 15 raised the smallest of eyebrows, Scott came to the statistically-easiest hole on the golf course. He even eschewed driver on the drivable par-4 16th, as if to show he was going to be like Williams’ old boss and par his way in calmly. When his approach from the fairway on 16 was too far from the flagstick to feel good, and when his lag putt left too much vegemite on that sandwich, all the fears began to percolate. Scott’s putting has been so unreliable that his switch to the broom-handle atrocity last year was viewed as both an admission of his lack of nerve and as an inevitable move. When all else fails, the thinking went, try the most absurd thing.
Consider that in the PGA Tour statistic of “Strokes Gained – Putting”, Scott ranked 178th, 180th, and 186th from 2008-10. The broom handle boosted him to 146th last year, and this year’s 77th ranking is seen almost as a boon.
But when the pressure comes, old ghosts haunt. And so it was that Scott lipped out the shortie on 16. Bogey. Two stroke lead. Now, his nerves were almost visible. The placid Scott demeanour went from indicating calm to barely hiding nausea.
His approach into 17 was long and left, into the rough. He couldn’t handle the chip out, and left himself 25 feet for par. No way. Bogey No. 3, and when Ernie Els was pouring home his birdie on 18, you could see the tsunami of pain about to crash on Scott. You could almost see Williams begin to distance himself from Scott, with the thought bubble: “Man. My old boss never pulled this kind of malarkey down the stretch.”
Scott was able to hit a gorgeous third on No. 18 after a fairway bunker nearly ended it right then and there. He had about 10 feet for a play-off. My mind immediately flashed to another Scott-like player, Sergio Garcia – skilled, awful putter, road kill in the Tiger Era – and to El Nino’s similar putt to win the 2007 Open at Carnoustie. Just as we all knew Sergio would miss that putt, when Scott drew back that javelin of a putter and tried that 10-footer for a play-off, it never had a chance.
While Ernie Els was champion golfer of the year, Adam Scott authored one of the great collapses in recent Major championship history and we were left to remember the good old days, when Tiger Woods used to take 54-hole leads and stuff them in a lock box. Now, Tiger’s bogeying his way through Sundays, 54-hole leaders are nervous and flailing, and Major championships are a Sunday crapshoot – our 16th consecutive different winner.
And, no moonwalk-into-splits for Stevie.