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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Trailed by a few dozen spectators on a steamy Monday in South Carolina’s coastal Lowcountry, Adam Scott was focused on what’s to come this week at the 94th PGA Championship on Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, not what transpired last month an ocean away.
Sure, the disappointment over losing the British Open lingers. Why wouldn’t it? Scott was four shots clear with four holes to play, one hand perhaps starting to size up the coveted claret jug. But four closing bogeys and an 18th-hole birdie by Ernie Els produced a stunning five-shot swing and left Scott one back, with no holes remaining.
Instead of joining the elite major champions’ club, Scott found himself being compared with others who famously pulled bitter defeat from the jaws of assumed victory.
“I’ve been disappointed a lot of times at majors, even though I’ve never been closer to one maybe,” Scott said. “There wasn’t that much healing for me. I certainly analyzed the last few holes a little bit and took out of it what I wanted, and then just thought about how great I played.
“I felt like it was my week, and I played like a champion, but I just didn’t . . . I played four poor holes at the end.”
If misery loves company, Scott might want to seek out Jim Furyk. Twice in the last two months, in high-profile events, Furyk failed to win despite leading late. He bogeyed two of his final three holes at the US Open, shot a Sunday 74, and tied for fourth, two shots back. Furyk then made a sloppy double bogey at the 18th hole on Sunday to help hand Keegan Bradley a one-shot victory at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. Like Scott at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Furyk was in total control in Akron, Ohio, until slipping up at the very end.
“I go back to the US Open and the chances I had there, and played poorly the last three holes. And here, I led the golf tournament the entire way and lost it on the very last hole,” Furyk said Sunday, after his final-hole folly. “To get that close and to know that I played more than good enough to win the golf tournament and not close the door is disappointing. It’s a cruel game.”
Winning on the PGA Tour always has been difficult. But this year, it seems even tougher for those who carry a lead into the final round — or deeper. Through 34 stroke-play events, the third-round leader has gone on to win just 11 times.
It seems the bigger the tournament, the greater the chance of the 54-hole leader stumbling. Which also opens the door for someone to charge from behind — six winners this year started the final round at least six shots back — or gain ground by simply treading water.
Here’s a telling statistic: Not once did either of the last two major champions — Webb Simpson at the US Open, Els at the British Open — hold the outright lead while they were on the golf course any of the four days. Both shot 68 in the final round, but only after others behind them faltered were their names alone at the top. They never had to sleep on a lead or face the pressure that comes with being in front down the stretch.
Why has it been so difficult to seal the deal?
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Scott said. “For one, everyone else is very good. There’s a lot of people that can put pressure on themselves, and the golf courses are difficult. That’s a pretty good combination for creating drama and having unexpected things happen. It’s obviously proving to be the case this year.”
Scott gave himself a few days at his home in the Swiss Alps to stew over the British loss — “I pretty much find myself on the couch for about 48 hours after a major” — skipped the Canadian Open, then returned last week in Akron, where he tied for a lackluster 45th and never broke par.
Getting back into competition, Scott felt, was necessary. Getting over the mental rinse cycle that came from leading for much of the week at Royal Lytham but not winning? That’s ongoing.
“I was pretty flat in Akron and it wasn’t quite what I was wanting,” Scott said. “I think being in the mix the whole week just took a little more out of me than maybe I’ve ever felt at a major before. I had never been in the lead for the whole week of a major, and I think there’s a bit of a mental letdown, not just from how it all turned out. So it was good to get out, back swinging. I think this week I can be a bit more alert and get into it.”
Looking at the Ocean Course, it won’t be a surprise if the recent trend of late leaders faltering down the stretch continues at the PGA Championship. Once players reach the 14th tee, five brutal holes buttressed to the right by the Atlantic Ocean await, without a pushover among them: the 14th (238 yards) and 17th (223) are monster one-shotters, the 15th (444 yards) and 18th (501) difficult par 4s, and the 16th a 581-yard par 5. Anyone attempting to protect a slim lead on Sunday will face an intimidating gauntlet coming home, with the prevailing wind whipping right-to-left off the coast.Continued...