PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Adam Scott never had to take this much time walking from the clubhouse to the practice range at TPC Sawgrass.
He couldn’t take more than a few steps without a player or a caddie stopping to congratulate him for his feel-good win at Augusta National. There were so many fans pressed against the fence to get his autograph that it nearly collapsed. Finally, he got into a cart to head to the back end of the practice range.
It’s time for the Masters champion to get back to work, and that might prove tougher than the actual work at The Players Championship.
Scott has virtually disappeared since holing that 12-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to become the first Australian to win the Masters. He was in New York for a couple of days and then headed to The Bahamas where he has a home.
He usually takes a few weeks off after a major to decompress. This time, he waited an extra week before picking up a club. It felt that good.
“I’ve had a really nice break since the Masters, which I had planned anyway,” Scott said Wednesday. “But it was even better because I was floating around on the clouds the last three weeks. It’s been an overwhelming time for me.”
Once he finally put a club back in his hands, the swing felt as pure as that final round at Augusta. He was eager to compete again, and The Players Championship is enough to get any pro’s attention.
It features the strongest and deepest field in golf all year, on a Stadium Course that had can be challenging, frustrating, punishing and rarely dull. Scott won The Players in 2004 after hitting 5-iron into the water on the 18th and making a 10-foot bogey putt to win by a shot.
“It’s a nice week for me to come back to Sawgrass and The Players, because I’ve had such a great run here over the years,” Scott said. “I’m excited about playing this week. I hopefully can take my head out of the clouds and come back down to earth and play some good golf.”
That would be the only way to make it around this golf course.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the best two players of their generation, each have one win at the home of the PGA Tour. The list of winners ranges from power players such as Greg Norman and Davis Love III to pea shooters in the mold of Fred Funk and Tim Clark.
Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell last won in America on courses designed by Pete Dye: McIlroy at the PGA Championship (Kiawah Island) and BMW Championship (Crooked Stick); McDowell at Hilton Head a couple of weeks ago.
“I think Pete Dye designed a certain type of golf course,” McDowell said. “He likes to penalize the player in his own kind of unique way, and this golf course certainly has its dangers. But it’s certainly scorable at the same time.”
McIlroy was perplexed while playing the sixth hole Wednesday. He hit two shots off the tee, one in the fairway and one in the rough, about the same distance. He hit an iron with the ball in the fairway, pin-high about 15 feet left of the flag. He used the same club from the rough and watched it sail over the green. That’s the trouble with this rough. It’s not very high, and the ball can jump out of there.
As he played the par-5 ninth, caddie J.P. Fitzgerald reminded him that it’s best to lay up on the hole. McIlroy smashed his tee shot and his caddie told him, “You have 266 (yards) to the front. Perfect 5-iron.” McIlroy followed his instructions, hit the shot and then threw down another ball and asked for the 3-wood.
He missed to the right of the green, shrugged and said, “Just wanted to get it out of my system.”
NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller said players have to “tippy-toe” their way around the golf course. Scott, meanwhile, is still floating.
There was never a moment where he woke up in the Bahamas and realized that the Sunday playoff in the rain was not a dream, that he indeed had won the Masters. The routine he kept each morning made that impossible.
“When I walk in the closet and I put the green jacket on every morning … I do,” he said as the room filled with laughter. “I’ve missed it the last couple days. It’s the first couple days I haven’t had it with me, so that’s been a lot of fun just wearing it around the house.”
That sums up Scott’s extraordinary vacation.
It was such a big deal in Australia to finally have a Masters champion that he was tempted to go home and join the celebration.
But he has bigger plans. The Masters was in April. This is May. The season is not even halfway over, and there are still three majors to be played. Scott certainly never had any intentions of stopping at one.
“It was an incredible response to winning,” Scott said. “The prime minister of Australia called me. Like I said, I was overwhelmed. Also, I talked this one over with the people that are around me, and we’re in the middle of the year. Yes, it’s cause for celebration, but we have a plan in place. It’s hopefully not going to stop with the Masters at the moment. I want to keep focused while I can and try to make this my biggest year yet.
“I think we can rustle up some celebration when I get home at the end of the year.”