Hey everyone, remember Adam Scott?
His era lasted for a mere two weeks in March, so you get a free pass if you forgot, but it was quite a run. The 35-year-old held off Sergio Garcia to win the Honda, then clipped Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson one week later at the WGC-Cadillac. Could there be a new Big 5? Maybe just a Big 1? Scott was here to stay.
And then he wasn’t. He followed a sloppy 42nd-place finish at Augusta (where he failed to break par all week) with decent performances at the Wells Fargo and Players, and a middling week at Colonial. He’s not coming into the U.S. Open with momentum. But he is rested. Scott thinks he was worn down by a busy schedule to begin the year. He has played just one event in the last month.
“I've been really careful since the Masters time to make sure that I'm fresher for this event,” Scott said in his pre-tournament press conference. “I’m two weeks off, and I'm pretty glad I took two weeks off because this is going to be probably as tough a test as we've ever faced at a U.S. Open.”
And until recently, the U.S. Open was the major that had Scott’s number the most. In 14 career appearances, he has two top-10s (in 2014 at Pinehurst and 2015 at Chambers Bay) and six missed cuts. Scott said he can’t remember an Open he entered in top form. This year is no different, but he’s confident, not timid, at Oakmont.
“I haven't seen a better setup for me personally than this,” Scott said. “If I can drive the ball how I usually do, I think I'm at a little bit of an advantage.”
Angel Cabrera won the 2007 U.S. Open by bombing and gouging his way around Oakmont. He finished second in total driving distance at 310.9 yards off the tee, but only hit 27 fairways, ranking 48th in the field. The Argentinian avoided making anything higher than a bogey all week and won by one stroke, thanks in part to his 13 birdies, second-most in the field.
Scott is trying a different approach this week.
“You're just going to have to hit fairways,” Scott said. “No matter what club and strategy you have off the tee, the guy who wins Sunday is going to have to hit some fairways. It would be surprising if he got it around here Sunday scrambling and won the tournament.”
Driver has long been one of Scott's most dependable clubs. In the past three years, he’s ranked fourth, sixth and second in strokes gained off the tee. Earlier this spring, he overpowered long and difficult tracks at PGA National and Doral en route to those back-to-back wins. Players will be given options on almost every tee this week – Rory McIlroy said he's going to hit 2-iron more than driver this week – but Scott is planning on playing to his strengths: the driver.
“I think you've got to challenge this golf course,” Scott said. “It's going to be a very, very difficult golf course to lay back and execute perfectly all week. The greens are just so severe that coming in with a longer club all the time is probably going to catch up with you. And I feel like if any of the top guys play well, you're at a disadvantage if you're plodding your way around.
“That doesn't necessarily mean attack. You've got to be a little bit smart, of course, but I think my plan certainly is to challenge this golf course this week.”
If you have tuned in for any coverage this week, you know Oakmont's greens are very, very fast. If you have watched golf over the last few years, you also know Scott's Achilles' heel is the putter. But what if the slick greens make everyone a middling putter, negating Scott's disadvantage? That could be the recipe for a Scott victory. He's a paltry 111th in strokes gained putting this year (up from 156th in 2015) after switching from his now-banned belly putter. However, in those back-to-back wins in March, Scott finished 24th and 17th in strokes gained putting.
"I think you've just really got to have the right mindset going out this week to enjoy whatever gets thrown at you," Scott said. "If you get crazy putts, enjoy the challenge of it. Stay calm. You know, it's going to be the same for everybody even though you feel like it's just you making a meal of the golf course. You've really got to have the right mental approach and not get frustrated. I think the guys who are going to play well this week will be upbeat and calm and kind of just floating around the golf course and won't get dragged into all the bad stuff that's out there."
He's got the swing and the attitude down. If the putter follows, the Scott Era could be reborn for the second time this year.