Less means more for Adam Scott
DORAL, Fla. -- At the beginning of his career, Adam Scott was touted as a strong challenger to Tiger Woods. His swing -- matured by Butch Harmon -- was a close kin of Tiger's powerful, athletic move. The Australian came after Sergio Garcia and before Rory McIlroy. He was a surfer attached to beautiful women.
At 23, Scott won the 2004 Players Championship and two years later the Tour Championship. He was on the move, but his game wasn't showing up at the majors. Coming into 2011, he had only four top-10s in 39 majors, but then in one year garnered top-10s at the Masters and the PGA Championship. He had five other top 10s last year, including a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.
At Augusta, where he finished in a tie for second, Scott held the lead late on Sunday, but his 5-under 67 wasn't enough to hold off Charl Schwartzel, who had four closing birdies to win by two shots. Scott had Tony Navarro on his bag for Augusta, but then he hired Steve Williams in July after Tiger fired the caddie after 13 years.
From swing instructor to caddie, Scott has seemingly followed in Tiger's footsteps. Now he's taken up Tiger's habit of not playing very much golf, building his schedule around the majors and a few select other events, including the World Golf Championships. For years Scott kept a torrid schedule -- during one stretch early in his career he played 14 weeks in a row -- but now at 31, he wants to pace himself for the long haul.
On Thursday, his 6-under par 66 in the first round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship was only his sixth round of year.
"I'm trying to keep myself fresh and have myself ready, also at the same time for the biggest events of the year," said Scott, who is in a tie for the lead with Jason Dufner. "And that certainly starts here, I believe, until the end of September.
"When you're 21 it's pretty easy to fly around the world nonstop and just go play and do everything you want to do, but it's different when you're 31. You've got to do the right things for your game and not just go running off playing every week chasing World Ranking points or whatever you're playing for."
In December, Scott, the 11th-ranked player in the world, spent a month on the couch back in his native Queensland recovering from a tonsillectomy. He didn't have his first start in the U.S. until mid-February at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.
"I just really enjoyed being home for three months. I think it's the first time in my whole career that I've been home that long," Scott said.
With world ranking points and millions of dollars on the line seemingly every week in tournaments around the world, the long view can be a difficult proposition. Players who keep reduced schedules have the added pressure of performing well over a fewer number of events compared to most other players. They also tend to be players who love to practice.
Scott sounded like Tiger on Thursday when he talked about the joy he finds in working on his game.
"I enjoyed the practice as much as any result I had last year, so I do enjoy going home and spending hours on the range and the chipping green and the putting green." Scott said. "I feel that's the balance that I need to perform the best."
In 2011, Luke Donald, who shot a 2-under 70 on Thursday in his first week in 40 weeks not at the top of the world ranking, played in 27 worldwide events in a career-defining season. He won the money titles on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour. But how much did his busy international schedule hurt his ability to perform at the majors?
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After a tie for fourth at the 2011 Masters, Donald tied for 45th at the U.S. Open and missed the cut at the British Open. Yet he won the Barclays Scottish Open in the tournament leading up to the British and had top-10s in all but five events between the Masters and his season-ending JBWere Masters in Australia in December.
Donald's game was peaking at the right time, but for whatever reason he didn't play as consistently in the four majors as he had in his 23 other events.
Scott said he might play next week in the Transitions in Tampa, Fla., but he'll rest at least two weeks before heading to the Masters in early April.
"I'm just kind of leaving it to the last minute about next week. I feel like I'm playing well; it might be a good thing to go and play and keep building the confidence," Scott said.
Thus, the paradox: how do you keep building the confidence if you don't play? By Sunday night, Scott will have matched his total rounds of the year coming into Doral. Can he withstand the pressure that many of his other competitors have already seen this year?
After 13 years as a professional, he believes he knows the answers to some of these questions.
"I think overall, for a lot of different reasons, I learned to trust my own instincts again," Scott said. "Do you really want to play; you've got to find the real answer inside, and not for other people and not for reasons other than what you really want. I think that's how you get the best out of your game."
So no matter how blustery the Blue Monster becomes during the weekend or what hell the water-filled 18th hole casts on the these top 74 players in the world, Scott will be rested and in the right place at the right time for his career.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.