In a tiny nook in the locker room of the TPC Four Seasons Resort on Sunday night, the usually pulled-together Adam Scott was letting himself go. His shirttail, once tucked into his trousers, dangled beneath his black-and-white sweater. His cap had gone missing, revealing a mane that sprouted in multiple directions. A can of beer, with its drink tab punched out, shared a seat with him on a bench.
As he relived the finer points of his playoff victory over Ryan Moore at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship — especially the winning, 48-foot birdie putt with two yards of break on the third extra hole — his caddie, Tony Navarro, packed up Scott’s clubs and headed for the exit. It wasn’t until Navarro was outside that he explained the true importance of Scott’s sixth PGA Tour victory and first in 13 months.
“I’d like to bring him back next year as the U.S. Open champion,” said Navarro, already looking ahead to the second major of the year, in San Diego. “That’s our goal. This is a win that points him to Torrey.”
Ever since the 27-year-old Scott turned pro, there has been a tendency to gaze into the crystal ball and imagine him with major championships. Start with his textbook swing, finish with his dashing looks, and there isn’t a player on Tour who seems better equipped to challenge Tiger Woods for supremacy and Q ratings in the coming years.
Instead, few golfers have cornered the market on stress-filled Sundays like Scott — dumping a shot into the water on number 18 on the way to winning the 2004 Players Championship; committing the same gaffe during a victory at last year’s Shell Houston Open; and losing the Stanford St. Jude Classic in ’07 with the help of yet another water ball, this one on 14.
Like a bad rerun, Scott found water in the final round of the Nelson as well, ballooning his tee shot on the par-3 5th hole and splashing a Titleist. The double bogey trimmed his three-shot lead to one.
“An awful shot,” Scott said. “Threw everyone back in the mix. I needed to walk out of here with a trophy. It would’ve been a tough defeat. Even in tough conditions, to let go of a three-shot lead doesn’t sit too well with many people, and that goes for me as well. That would have been rough.”
Scott was hardly the only victim of D.A. Weibring and Steve Walford’s redesign of a layout once defined by hard-to-hold fairways and inconsistent greens. The $10 million project left cleaner sight lines but also created a tougher test with lengthened par-4s, slopier greens and shaved chipping areas. The overriding sentiment from the players was that the course had improved, even if certain changes were deemed unfair.
“Bottom line, this course is better,” said Scott McCarron, “but I thought it was set up too tough for the first year.”
With the Nelson struggling to attract the game’s elite players following the death of its namesake in 2006 — Scott was the only entrant ranked in the top 10 — Walford said he and Weibring sent out surveys to Tour members asking what they thought of the old course.
“Awkward tee shots — that’s what they said over and over again,” said Walford. “We tried to change the fairway contouring on holes to support the tee shot a little more. Beyond that, I think a challenging course is going to work in our favor in getting good players here. I don’t think you see those players show up to shootout-type events where 28 under is going to win, certainly not Tiger. We tried as much as we could to get [the] driver back in these guys’ hands.”
The result was a winning score of seven-under-par 273, the highest since the tournament moved to Four Seasons in 1983, and one of the most exciting finishes of the season after a weeklong tussle in 30-mph winds. On Sunday the 25-year-old Moore was in position to take his first title after birdieing the tough par-3 17th, only to see Scott catch him at the wire by draining a nine-foot birdie putt on 18 to force the playoff. After matching pars on the 18th and the 17th, Scott found the fairway bunker to the right on 18. He then hit his approach about 50 feet from the cup. Scott didn’t even bother asking Navarro for a read. “I had a good feeling,” he said.
Scott fit nicely into the part of the event’s leading man — he had courtside seats for the Dallas Mavericks’ playoff game last Friday night — but he had a bigger role in mind, like trying to win his first major at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, though he has never played a competitive round there. He did, however, play a practice round at Torrey in February while in Southern California for the Northern Trust Open. “It’s a monster,” Scott said.
When Scott’s game is on, so is he.