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2013 British Open: Masters champ Adam Scott gets chance to erase major flub

By Jeff Shain
New York Times

For a few long moments, it seemed the weight might never let Adam Scott stand up.

Sitting back on his haunches, resting that broomstick putter against his forehead, Scott struck a lonely pose on Royal Lytham’s 18th green last year after his 8-foot par attempt slid past. After four consecutive bogeys, the British Open crown that seemed his an hour earlier belonged to Ernie Els.

“I’m sure there will be a next time,” Scott said, “and I can do a better job of it.”

Some wondered whether he would be scarred for life.

The memories certainly cannot be sidestepped this week as golf’s elite descend upon Muirfield to contest the 142nd British Open. Scott, however, arrives not as a tragic figure but as a major champion.

“Every tournament, I feel, is an opportunity for me now,” said the reigning Masters champion, who became the first Australian to wear the green jacket with his triumph on the second hole of a rain-pelted playoff at Augusta National during April.

“I haven’t won the Open because of the Masters,” Scott added. “I still miss out on that. But I’m really looking forward to going back and trying to get myself in a similar kind of situation – a chance to win the Open.”

On Muirfield’s straightforward course, which rewards ball-striking, the possibility cannot be ruled out.

Whatever happens, redemption will not be the Scott narrative. That has been taken care of.

“Incredible comeback,” Curtis Strange, winner of two U.S. Opens, said of Scott. “Coming back from a disappointment that very few know what it feels like – it’s hard to come back from something like that. Some do and some don’t.”

Granted, one does not have to look far to find another example of someone who rose quickly from the mat: Rory McIlroy went from blowing a four-shot lead at the 2011 Masters to breaking records at the U.S. Open two months later.

But there are far more tragic losers whose major moments ended there: Scott Hoch at Augusta, Doug Sanders at St. Andrews in Scotland, Mike Donald at Medinah in Illinois, Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie in Scotland.

“You learn from your experience, or you never recover from it,” said Paul Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner who once teetered on that list.

He took a one-shot lead to the 17th hole at the 1987 British Open before a misguided driver skipped into one of Muirfield’s 156 bunkers. A bogey-bogey finish left the Claret Jug to Nick Faldo.

“It still hurts to this day,” Azinger said.

Strange, likewise, led the 1985 Masters by three with six holes left. But three bogeys opened the door for Bernhard Langer. A few days later, Strange ran into Jack Nicklaus.

“I think this can make you or break you,” Nicklaus told him, “and I think it will make you.”

It was a three-year wait, though, before Strange won, beating Faldo in an 18-hole playoff at the 1988 U.S. Open.

“I think of being so frightened that it was going to break me down,” Strange said. “You go at it harder, because you can’t let that one tournament break you after all those years of working. Fear might be a big motivation.”

For Scott, the collapse at Royal Lytham served more as a form of validation. Over his first 39 majors, he had just four top-10 finishes – never in weekend contention – and 14 missed cuts. Although he won the 2004 Players Championship, it failed to be a springboard to anything bigger.

He started making changes during 2010, leaving his longtime coach, Butch Harmon, for Brad Malone, then scaling his schedule back two years ago.

“I’m a learner, but not a fast one, obviously,” Scott said. “I’d had enough, essentially, of not playing well enough in the big events when I felt I could. So I had to do something different. You have to after a while if it’s not working.”

Royal Lytham marked the first time a major was his to lose. When the initial shock wore off, he realized there was a progression in that fact.

“To get there just gave me the belief that I was on the right track – the belief that I’m good enough to win a major,” he said. “It was like the final piece of the puzzle for me, I think, to get that through my head.”

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