For the first time in his career, Adam Scott will enter a major championship as the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Tiger Woods’ back surgery and absence this year, in large part, helped Scott ascend to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking. But he also did his part with a Masters victory last year, top-5 finishes in the 2013 British Open and PGA Championship and consistently strong play.
As the 114th U.S. Open Championship begins Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2, Scott will have a lot of eyes on him. The Australian has the look, style and swing of a star, a man admired by many, but also has steeled himself to the point that he handle the pressure, the cauldron that is the Open.
Scott said Wednesday that he likes what he has seen of No. 2, likes the Open setup.
“It’s been much anticipated by most of the players because of significant changes, and we’re all interested to see what they did with the golf course since 2005,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s disappointed. I think what they’ve done has made a great golf course even better.”
In the 2005 U.S Open, No. 2 presented a different test with Bermuda rough guarding the fairways. Scott, then 24 and competing in his fourth U.S. Open, tied for 28th.
Much has changed in the nine years since – for No. 2 and especially for Scott.
The course has undergone an extensive renovation by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Scott’s game went into a decline for a few years as he struggled, on the course and with his personal life, before a rebound that has seen him win his first major and go to No. 1.
“He’s looked like a potential No. 1 in the world since he was 14,” said Geoff Ogilvy, one of Scott’s close friends from Australia and a former U.S. Open champion. “He always looked incredible and played incredibly well. He was having an amazing career up to three or four years ago. He had sort of an unlucky bit of a stumble and lost his way for about a year or so. He reassessed the whole thing, geared his whole life to practice and ‘I want to be No. 1 in the world; I want to win majors.’
“There’s no shortage of guys out here willing to work really hard, but he’s obviously worked really hard and really smart. He works on what makes him better. That’s all he does. He gets better and better every week and has the last two or three years, it seems.”
Going to a long putter in 2011 smoothed out issues on the greens. Scott employed Woods’ former caddie, Steve Williams. It has all come together for him.
“He’s a very accomplished player,” Australian Jason Day said. “He’s won a lot of big, big tournaments, (and) he’s won all around the world. Europe, Australia, the PGA Tour, Asia, you name it.”
Scott was married April 17 to Swedish architect Marie Kojzar in private ceremony in the Bahamas. At 33, he still has the svelte, supple look that has endorsement offers coming his way, and he has the game to go with it.
When a late collapse in the final round cost him the 2012 British Open, some feared it might be a career crusher for him. The next spring, he won the Masters.
Taking over the No. 1 ranking before Colonial late last month, he responded by looking the part in beating Jason Dufner in a playoff for his 11th PGA Tour victory.
The next question: Can Scott win a U.S. Open? His best finish was 15th at Olympic in 2012.
“Maybe it’s coincidence that I haven’t had my best stuff at a U.S. Open,” Scott said. “But I certainly feel like where my game’s at now, and the past few years, I should be able to compete here. I’m trying to build a game that can play anywhere, so it’s a good week for me to kind of turn the corner and get in contention.”
In winning the 2013 Masters, Scott became the first Aussie to get a green jacket. Scott celebrated. Ogilvy celebrated. Aussies everywhere celebrated.
“We were in Hawaii that week, but I emailed him and told him I was having a beer for him and felt like I actually won the Masters,” said Karrie Webb, an Aussie and two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Ogilvy said when he won the 2006 Open at Winged Foot, Scott seemed almost as thrilled as the champion. It said a lot about Scott as a friend, as a person.
“He was genuinely happy,” Ogilvy said. “He’s an amazing guy like that.”
And now No. 1.