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Adam Scott
For much of the first part of 2009, Adam Scott struggled to translate his form on the range into good scores during competition. (Little/Getty Images)

Surprising turnaround could be nearing end for Scott

Eyebrows were raised when Adam Scott, once the world's No. 3-ranked golfer, vanished from the leaderboard earlier this year. A pair of strong recent finishes seem to have him back on track, though.

TURNBERRY, Scotland (AP) -- Adam Scott embraces his Australian golf heritage and the comparisons to major champions whom he would like to join someday, the sooner the better. This one, however, made him wince.

The topic was Ian Baker-Finch.

“I’m not sure I like where you’re headed with this,” Scott said.

Baker-Finch captured the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 1991 and was among the top players in golf until one of the most celebrated slumps in golf. He went 31 straight tournaments without making the cut, the last straw his 92 at Royal Troon in the 1997 Open Championship.

Scott managed a smile, perhaps because he believes the worst is behind -- and it didn’t last very long.

“It’s only been three months,” Scott said.

Maybe so, but it has felt like an entire season.

Scott is not the only player who has gone through a rough patch this year. Padraig Harrington, the two-time defending champion at the Open, had missed five straight cuts until winning the Irish PGA Championship last week. Ernie Els has gone nearly 18 months without winning.

Both, however, are major champions.

Scott will turn 29 on Thursday when the Open begins at Turnberry. In a career marked by steady progress to as high as No. 3 in the world last summer, it was astonishing to see him vanish from leaderboards from February until June.

He lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He missed six cuts in a row, including The Players Championship, where he hit one tee shot onto the adjacent golf course.

The questions piled up faster than the big numbers.

--How bad was his injury from surfing in Australia, the sixth time he had dislocated his kneecap?

--What was he doing surfing?

--Was he more motivated making the cover of fashion magazines or golf magazines?

--Who was he dating now?

Those close to him grew concerned when he only made news for the company he was keeping -- actress Kate Hudson for a week in Hawaii, tennis star Ana Ivanovic for the last few months -- than the shots he was hitting.

After scores of 77-81 at the Memorial, Scott finally snapped.

And so did one of his clubs.

“I think it was three months of frustration,” Scott said of the 7-iron he broke. “Just my luck, I needed it six more times that day. And the Memorial is the only tournament without a repair van, so I played with 13 clubs the next day. But I felt better about it.”

Scott has won a tournament every year since his first full season in Europe in 2001. He was the youngest to win The Players Championship. He was the kid who swung just like Tiger Woods, before Woods changed his swing.

Then, he couldn’t make a cut.

“For nine years, I thought I could win anywhere, and I would just fall into a major one of these years,” Scott said. “It was hard to comprehend why this was happening. It’s never taken me so long to figure this out.”

How far had he fallen?

Just over a year ago, Scott was featured with Woods and Phil Mickelson in that “1-2-3” grouping taken off the world ranking. He nearly fell out of the top 50 until he put three good rounds together at the Barclays Scottish Open and tied for fourth, moving up to No. 43.

“My play was disgusting,” Scott said.

He thought he was working on the right drills to get his swing back to where it was. He stood on the range and hit the ball where he was looking. Then he stuck a tee in the ground and put a scorecard in his pocket, and everything changed.

“I didn’t have a clue,” Scott said. “Everyone was telling me it looked good, trust it. But I fell apart on the course.”

Lee Westwood once climbed as high as No. 4 in the world until his game went south, falling out of the top 100 during two years of misery. He sought help from four swing coaches until finally, thankfully, getting back on his feet.

Baker-Finch went through nearly a dozen coaches, which he said ruined him.

“The key is not to panic,” Westwood said. “You’ve just got to go back to the basics. Generally, you’ll find it was an obvious thing.”

That’s just what Scott did.

After his 81 at the Memorial, he retreated to Queenwood Golf Club outside London. He didn’t invite Butch Harmon, his longtime coach. He didn’t ask help from his caddie, Tony Navarro.

A club employee worked the video and Scott went to the practice range, sessions that lasted up to four hours, six straight days. Before long, he watched the flight of one ball, which was just as he imagined it should go.

Then came his first big test, Bethpage Black for the U.S. Open. He opened with a 69, easily made the cut and even saw his name on the leaderboard early in the final round until a string of late bogeys that only cost him money. He played in the final group on the weekend at Loch Lomond, and the smile grew wider, even as the tabloids quizzed him about Ivanovic.

He is not over the hump. He still doesn’t have a major.

Still, he believes he is closer than ever, not because of steady progress but a surprising detour.

“I’ll be a better player than I ever was before,” Scott said. “I’m sure of that.”
 

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