Akron, Ohio — It still seems a little odd that one of the big-deal World Golf Championships, the Bridgestone Invitational, is slotted into the golf schedule the week before the year's final major championship.
As big as the Bridgestone is or isn't (your call), it will inevitably be viewed as the undercard for next week's PGA Championship. Luckily, playing the tight, tree-lined fairways of storied Firestone Country Club is the perfect preparation for the mostly tree-less, waste-area-lined fairways and windswept dunes of the Ocean Course. (Please note the dripping sarcasm.)
Even Adam Scott, your smiling British Open runner-up, had a laugh at that concept.
"Well, it's probably drawing a long bow to say this is going to get you ready for Kiawah," Scott said here Wednesday. "But there's a lot of Sawgrass in there. It's a Pete Dye course. He has his signature stamps. I've seen a lot of Sawgrass on other courses. But it's different grass here. This is really not much like Kiawah at all."
Other than the fact that both tournaments will have blimps hovering over them, they don't have much in common.
This suits Scott, however. The best thing about the PGA is that it's coming on the heels of his British Open near-miss. Another chance to play this week at Firestone, where he enjoyed a confidence-building victory last year, is sufficient preparation. Golf is about hitting targets and making putts, whether you're at Firestone or Kiawah or somewhere in Norway.
All right, so not everyone thinks the Ocean Course is a swell track. "It's two different nines," Scott said. "The front nine is a really nice, playable golf course. And then the back nine is not."
That line made some writers laugh. Kiawah's back nine will not make any players laugh next week. That's another story for another time. (You'll see next week.) Right now, Scott needs a chance to play, another opportunity to try to win. You know, the fall-off-the-horse-and-get-back-on bit. That's why he cut short his downtime at his home in the Swiss Alps. Plus, it's a WGC event. There's no cut, so it's free money. There's also only half a field, so it's theoretically easier to win because there are fewer players to beat. And there are a lot of world ranking points on the line.
None of that is important to Scott. He is here to work on winning.
"I'm obviously playing well, so it's important that I should try and build my own confidence and pick up some momentum as we come into a really important stretch," he said. "The disappointment of Lytham shouldn't hold me back from taking advantage of the way I'm playing at the moment."
That is extremely practical talk. Just the kind of stuff that guys who lose majors never, ever say, even though they should. Scott doesn't shy away from talking about his Lytham moment. He wants to use it.
There was no period of self-mourning, he said; it was more like a numb feeling. "I certainly didn't beat myself up and have to curl up in a corner," he said.
After just about any major, he said, he spends the next two days lounging on a couch. It is difficult to recall a major runner-up dealing with disaster in a smarter or more positive way than Scott. He got condolence calls by the dozens, including one from fellow Aussie Greg Norman. Friends called. Family members called. Strangers called.
"Some people, I don't know how they got my number, actually," Scott joked. "It was very nice to have that kind of support. It made those few days easier, I would say."
Maybe, just maybe, Scott is on the cusp of taking his career to a higher level. He's 32 , and maybe his performance at Lytham indicates that he's going to join that elite group of players who chase major titles. Maybe.
"I've changed my schedule to try to make myself a contender in majors," he said. "For 10 years, I wasn't, that's pretty clear. The last two years, my results have improved dramatically.
"That's really the reason I'm playing, to win majors. That's how we're identified at the end of our careers. Everyone has always said I'm a guy with potential to win majors, but until you've got physical proof you can do it, maybe you don't 100-percent believe it. The way I look at it, Lytham was the proof that I'm good enough to win major championships."
Scott doesn't seem haunted by Lytham. Invigorated by it, perhaps. Motivated, certainly. Reassured, even, according to Ernie Els.
"Scotty is an upstanding guy, he faces the music," said Els, the British Open champion. "I spoke to him last night at the hotel and asked him what he was up to last week. He had his father with him in Switzerland, and it sounded like they had a good time.
"The pain is there, I know that. But he's handling it unbelievably well. I truly think he now believes he can win multiple majors. If you look back, Nick Price did the same in the early '80s and basically gifted Tom Watson one at Troon. There's been quite a few situations like that. He's not the only one. He's young enough where he can bounce back and win quite a few times."
All Tour pros are different, but it was fascinating, if not refreshing, to hear Scott talk about Ernie's big win. Maybe we've gotten used to Tiger Woods winning all those majors and never coming close to saying anything too personal or insightful or altruistic. In the moments after his close call at Lytham, Scott admitted that he felt a little bad for Els. That's right, the runner-up felt bad for the winner.
"It should have been a time of elation for him," Scott said, "and he felt like he had to console me a little bit. I didn't really feel good about that.
"Obviously, Ernie and I are great mates and it's very hard. If the shoe was on the other foot, it would be really hard to see that because we all know how much it means to each other. Ernie worked really hard and turned his game around the last couple of years. I'm really happy for him. He's really the only guy who was in the mix who played a great round on Sunday. So he was a deserving champion in that respect."
There was no second-guessing by Scott or his caddie, Steve Williams. Scott said they took a few days to evaluate what happened, then discussed how they could've done things better over that final round. But specific shots? Decisions? Scott doesn't feel the need to play a what-if game. He's already examined all the angles and moved on.
"Look, I could go over every shot and want to hit them all again," he said. "The shot into 15, the shot into 16, the shot into 17, the tee shot on 18. All of them.
"There's no excuse for me not making a good swing into 17, and we decided to hit 3-wood off 18. Whether it's right or wrong, neither of us were confident that 2-iron was going to fly the right bunker. I could have hit driver at 18, too. It's all these things. It's part of the process for me. I've got more work to do."
The work starts here Thursday on the first tee at 9:40 a.m. Eastern. And then there's the PGA Championship next week in South Carolina.
Scott isn't playing for redemption, although that's how his story will be portrayed if he gets into contention. He's simply playing for an opportunity to win, another chance to test himself. It's all any golfer can ask for.