Lost in the excitement over one of the wildest, most entertaining Masters in years was the fact that Adam Scott (final-round 67, tied for second) played well in his final tune-up for this week's Valero Texas Open at the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. Five of the top 10 at the Masters will be at the Valero, where Scott will try to defend his 2010 title. He can only hope he didn't peak too soon.
"There are only positives for me to take," Scott said from Augusta on Sunday, when he and Jason Day made clutch putts on 17 and 18, respectively, to give themselves a chance. "I don't think there's anything negative about it."
There was a time when Scott, not Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa or Matteo Manassero, was the next Tiger Woods. Absent the copious weight-room muscle, Scott had the same general build as Woods, and a swing so similar to Tiger's circa 2000 — the Harmon years — it was uncanny. It was a cruel comparison, though, leaving Scott little room to come into his own. He won 16 times in his twenties, including the 2004 Players Championship as one of his seven PGA Tour titles, but somehow it wasn't enough.
He struggled in the majors, and fell out of most conversations about the game's great young players. As Woods demonstrated over the weekend, a balky or even streaky putter can undo even the greatest golf shots, and Scott turned his focus to his foundation, where the latest initiative is getting iPads into the hands of autistic children. Scott's game came alive, though, when he switched to the long (broom-handle) putter at the WGC-Accenture Match Play in late February.
"I hadn't really thought about it at all," Scott said. "I got home from Hawaii and my coach [Brad Malone] had a long putter — he had been practicing with it to see — and he said, 'You should have a go,' because he thought it would do good things for my rhythm and short stroke."
It worked. Scott took 111 putts at Augusta, fewer than everyone else in the top 10 except Luke Donald's tournament-best 102 and Charl Schwartzel's 107. Now, instead of dreading the easiest and hardest part of the game, Scott looks forward to it. "I think the putter has made a huge difference," Malone told Australian AP. " ... For so long, those five- and six-footers were causing him nightmares."
Scott isn't the only player who comes to San Antonio on a hot streak. He'll be joined by Geoff Ogilvy (five straight back-nine birdies at Augusta) and Bo Van Pelt (eagles on 13 and 15). Texan Ryan Palmer, who snuck up on everyone to finish 10th, and a resurgent Angel Cabrera (seventh) also are in the field. Palmer tied for ninth in San Antonio last year.
One, some or all of those players could suffer a Masters hangover. Sunday gave us one of the most spirited battles for the green jacket in recent memory, in which seemingly every player had a chance to win. The Masters introduced many viewers to Jason Day, Schwartzel, and Van Pelt, who at 35 has somehow still won just once on Tour (2009 U.S. Bank Championship at Milwaukee). Because only the 2011 majors count toward making the next U.S. Ryder Cup team (as opposed to every tournament next year), Van Pelt is suddenly second only to Woods in Ryder Cup points.
"I just felt like my long game had kind of been coming around and my putting stroke had gotten a little bit better," Van Pelt said Sunday. "So I was pretty confident coming into the week that I would play well. I didn't know how well, but I felt like my game was in good enough shape that I could do something if I just stuck to my game plan, which I did."
Spencer Levin didn't qualify for Augusta, but he tied for ninth after slumping to a final-round 73 at last year's Valero. With six top-25 finishes including three top-10s in 11 starts this season, Levin is worth keeping an eye on this week.
Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia designed the 7,522-yard, par-72 Oaks Course, which will host the Valero for the second straight year. Like most Norman courses, this one is no pushover. The two par-5s on the front measure 602 and 604 yards, and the par-5 18th hole is 591. Last year's winning score, 14 under, is exactly what ended up winning a certain tournament last weekend.
Rice hosts, plays in Nationwide event
Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice will once again host and play in the Nationwide tour's Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif., where he will try to make the cut for the first time. His scores of 83-76 were one better than just one fulltime tour pro last year.
"My main goal is to help the tournament be successful," Rice said at the tournament's media day.
One positive step: Former U.S. Navy lieutenant Billy Hurley, who last year was helping protect Iraqi oil platforms while aboard a destroyer in the Persian Gulf, got a sponsor's exemption to play his first Nationwide event since 2007.
Hurley, who got sponsor's exemptions into the Arnold Palmer Invitational (T62) and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (MC) earlier this year, won seven times at Navy, and earned conditional Nationwide status at Q school last year.
Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am to get new winner
Bernhard Langer, who won last year's Outback when rain shortened the tournament to 36 holes, is still recovering from thumb surgery necessitated by a bike accident. That means the coast is clear for 2010 runner-up Mark O'Meara, Mark Calcavecchia, who's still looking for his first senior victory; Tom Lehman, who got his second W of 2011 earlier this month; or a player to be named later.
Schwartzel plays in Malaysia
Charl Schwartzel, who flew to Malaysia with 18-, 36-, 54- and 63-hole Masters leader Rory McIlroy — they both got there ahead of their golf clubs — headlines at the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, an event co-sanctioned by the European and Asian tours. With top-ranked Martin Kaymer, McIlroy and British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen also playing, the tournament is boasting its strongest field in its 50-year history.
The field is also young. In addition to McIlroy, 21, there's defending champion Noh Seung-yul, 19; Matteo Manassero, who turns 18 next week; and Danny Lee, 20.
Woods didn't have time to ruminate about his latest Masters disappointment. He has been in China this week promoting golf as part of Nike's "Make it Matter" tour. ... Larry Nelson has won the PGA of America's Distinguished Service Award and will be honored in conjunction with the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club on Aug. 10. ... Caddy for a Cure, which promotes awareness of the rare genetic disorder Fanconi anemia and partners with the PGA Tour's military-outreach initiative, Birdies for the Brave, is holding an auction on eBay (also at caddyforacure.com) in which the winner will spend Wednesday, May 4, with No. 1 Martin Kaymer as he prepares to play in the Wells Fargo Championship.