Winning the Masters is one of sports’ toughest accomplishments.
Winning it twice in a row might be even more challenging.
That’s the task facing Australia’s Adam Scott as he prepares to defend his 2013 Masters title, beginning with a 10:41 a.m. first-round tee time Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.
Repeating as champion has happened only three times in the Masters’ 80 years: Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and ’66, Nick Faldo in 1989 and ’90 and Tiger Woods in 2001 and ’02.
It’s been nearly a year since Scott won his first Masters, taken in the rain and growing darkness on the second playoff hole against Argentina’s Angel Cabrera.
“I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable on this golf course over the last years, and certainly winning – and the confidence you take from that – helps,” said Scott.
If he can’t repeat, though, he certainly won’t be alone. Players such as Phil Mickelson, a three-time champion but never back-to-back, know how daunting it is.
“I just think it’s a tough tournament to win, because you have such great players, such great competition,” Mickelson said. “And the course does play differently year-to-year.”
Mickelson hasn’t come close to winning twice in a row: He’s finished 10th, tied for 24th and tied for 27th, each year after he’s won the Masters.
Faldo said Scott’s best chance might be to forget about what happened last year and treat this week as if he’s never won at Augusta. That’s what Faldo did in 1990, when he repeated by beating Raymond Floyd in a playoff.
“About a month before, I was practicing in England and I suddenly said to myself: ‘I’m not going to defend. Just go and win another one.’ ” Faldo told Reuters. “So rather than getting wound up about defending, make it a mission to go and win another one.
“And when I got here and got momentum, it was a real motivation in the playoff. I thought to myself: ‘I am not giving up my jacket. I’m not putting this on somebody else.’ It was really quite good for me in the end.”
A record 24 first-time players are entered this week, including Australian Matt Jones, who qualified last week when he chipped in on the first playoff hole to win the Houston Open.
For the first time since 1995, the Masters will be without Woods, a four-time champion who is out for several weeks after recent surgery on a pinched nerve in his back.
It puts on hold Woods’ pursuit of Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. Woods has been stuck on 14 since he won the 2008 U.S. Open.
Scott has something else to play for this week – and it could also come at Woods’ expense. Scott, ranked second in the world, can overtake Woods as the world’s No. 1 player if he finishes at least in a two-way for third.
Third-ranked Henrik Stenson, who has struggled at the Masters, would vault to the top by finishing at least tied for second. Jason Day, who is ranked fourth and finished third at Augusta in 2013, can also become No. 1 if he wins.
“If I have a chance to win, I’ll just focus on that,” said Stenson, whose best finish in eight Masters appearances is a tie for 17th (twice). “The other thing (world No. 1) would be a nice bonus that comes with it. But I’m more concerned with winning tournaments than setting new records for myself on the rankings.”
Scott has spent the past year working toward this week, but also handling many of the ceremonial duties that come with being a Masters champion.
“I think I’ve had to manage my time better, that’s been as conscious effort at tournaments,” he said. “It’s been incredible to see the reception I get every week I play since being a Masters champion. It’s been a real buzz for me for 12 months.”
Now it’s time to play, and if Adam Scott wants another year of being a Masters champion, he’ll have to do what only three other players have ever done before.