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Scott returns to Masters with renewed confidence

(Reuters) - When Adam Scott won the Masters last year, an entire nation breathed a sigh of relief. Australia's long and frustrating wait to capture the only major golf championship to elude the sports-mad country was finally over.

For Scott, it was the ultimate redemption for a prodigiously talented player who had failed to live up to expectations and was developing a reputation as an underachiever.

Worse still, he had been labeled a choker after blowing the 2012 British Open when he bogeyed the last four holes to lose by a single stroke.

If Scott had never won another tournament after the Masters, his legacy would have already been assured, but that was not the way he viewed his breakthrough success.

What might have been the end of a long journey for Scott was really just the beginning. As he slipped on the winner's green jacket at Augusta National, Scott was already looking ahead.

"I'm very hungry," he told reporters at last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament. "And I think most other guys would feel the same.

"I feel that the next five years should be the best five years of my career. And I'm going to make sure that happens."

While Scott has not yet added to his major tally, he has been a serious contender in two of the three majors played since last year's Masters, finishing tied for third at the British Open and equal fifth at the PGA Championship.

Two weeks after the PGA, he won the Barclays, the first leg of the lucrative FedExCup playoffs. Then in October he won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which is restricted to the winners of the four majors of that year.

Scott returned to his homeland to the sort of reception normally reserved for pop stars and promptly won the Australian PGA Championship and Australian Masters before teaming up with Jason Day to capture the World Cup of golf.

"I've become a much more consistent golfer," he explained.

"You have days where you're feeling really good, and days where it still feels like a struggle and you've got to search for it.

"But I feel overall the work I'm putting in keeps me up there on a more regular basis."

Scott's improvement has been reflected in the world rankings. The 33-year-old is currently ranked second behind Tiger Woods and could take the top spot soon, even though not everything has been smooth sailing.

The demons of his past failures have never deserted him and serve as a constant reminder of what might have been for a man who burst onto the scene when he won the Players Championship a decade ago.

In the final event of his triumphant homecoming trip last year, Scott had the chance to add the Australian Open to his Australian PGA and Australian Masters titles.

He headed to the final tee leading by a shot but made a bogey and fell one behind Rory McIlroy, who birdied to win the tournament.

And just last month, Scott threw away a seemingly unbeatable seven-stroke lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational to finish third at the Bay Hill course in Florida.

But rather than be dismayed by his last-day collapses, Scott takes comfort, believing that the fact he is contending is proof that his game is better than ever as he prepares to head back to Augusta National and the scene of his greatest success.

The past 12 months has been a whirlwind for Scott, who has had to balance the increased demands on his time with his golf game, but an experience that has put him in good stead for the future.

"I think you've got to embrace it," he said.

"I didn't want to just dwell on it and leave my game at Augusta last year, I wanted to use it to propel me forward."

(Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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