Souhan: Scott embraces role as defending Masters champ

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2014 - 1:30 AM

The defending Masters champ is the picture of cool.

– Adam Scott brought bugs, not butterflies.

As the returning winner of the Masters, Scott designed the menu for the annual Champions Dinner. He served lobsters known in his native Australia as “bugs.”

He left behind the nervousness that so many golfers feel on the first tee of the first major of each season, enjoying his first round as the defending champ in a manner that suggests he’s not eager to drape a green jacket on someone else’s shoulders come Sunday.

“Having won last year, I think in some ways it took a little pressure off of me,” Scott said. “As I teed up today, I kind of felt like, what was the worst that can happen? I’m still going to be a Masters champion.”

Psychic comfort and course knowledge are critical at Augusta National. Great golfers who win here often win multiple times, but that advantage rarely manifests itself in consecutive years.

Only three times in 80 years has a Masters champion repeated: Jack Nicklaus in 1965-66, Nick Faldo in 1989-90 and Tiger Woods in 2001-02. With a first-round 69 that left him one shot off the lead held by Bill Haas, Scott is in position to become the junior member of a legendary foursome.

“An amazing group of guys,” Scott said. “Great champions.”

Scott has always resembled one. If you were going to design a golfer from scratch, he would probably look a lot like Scott, who is tall, lean, athletic, gracious, loquacious and swings with robotic precision.

He cruised around the course on Thursday, making perhaps only one bad swing. After a par on No. 11, Scott strolled to the 12th tee, and the “patrons” greeted him with a standing ovation.

Scott’s next shot landed in Rae’s Creek, fronting the 12th. He would make a double bogey for the only blemish on an otherwise flawless scorecard. He became the first defending champion to break 70 in the first round since Vijay Singh in 2001.

“It was a thrill, really,” Scott said. “The reception into every green, and almost every tee box, was incredible. The best one, the memory that will stick with me forever from today, was walking up to the 12th tee and everyone getting out of their seats. It was great.

“Then I went and hit it in the water.”

Scott laughed as he said this, keeping his consecutive-days-while-smiling streak alive. He sounds both relieved and driven by his lone major title. At 33, he hopes to follow in the spike marks of Phil Mickelson, who won his first major at the Masters at the age of 33, then won four more majors.

After missing the cut in 2009, Scott finished 18th, second and eighth before winning last year. “I felt in 2010 I finally had a level of comfort on the golf course, and that carried me a long way,” he said. “Since then, it’s been a lot of good shots and some good, positive memories for me. And I hope I get on one of those runs where I’m one of the guys who kind of develops an affinity for the golf course like Phil Mickelson has, and many other guys have over the years.”

He has started this tournament with a 69 in three of the past five years, including in 2013. With Woods absent and Mickelson spraying shots all over the property, nobody on Thursday looked more comfortable amid the pine needles and patrons than Scott.

“There is a certain sense of freedom in the way you play,” Scott said of having a green jacket in the wardrobe. “No doubt, you can see that in the way Phil’s played around here since breaking through, hitting some incredible shots that maybe if he had not had the success or wins here, he might not have hit, being a little tighter.”

Thursday, Scott was loose enough to joke about his first shot into Rae’s Creek, and to savor his first trip around Augusta National as a champion. When he made the putt to win the 2013 Masters, Scott screamed, “C’mon, Aussie!” Thursday, he felt like everyone was yelling that back at him.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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