Aside from Tiger Woods, the biggest obstacle standing in Tiger Woods' way of breaking Jack Nicklaus' majors record is now Adam Scott.
For a decade, Scott was hailed as the next superstar Australian golfer. He was the heir to Greg Norman, and was predicted to become one of Tiger's great challengers in the second half of his career. After Scott won the Players Championship in 2004, it appeared that plan was on track and he would soon be a major winner and take up permanent residence inside the top five in the world rankings. Scott picked up a win a year on the PGA Tour from 2003 to 2008, in addition to multiple other victories on the Asian and Euro tours.
At the majors, however, the closest he came was a T3 at the PGA Championship, which wasn't even that close as Woods ran away for a 5-shot win. Then Scott completely fell off the map and wasn't really a contender anymore at the end of the decade. He couldn't putt, and he lost the form on a swing that was one of the most consistent in the game. Norman named him to the 2009 Presidents Cup team as as sympathy captain's pick, one not based on merit. It was unthinkable that Scott, considered to be a lock international star, could recede to the periphery.
The selection by Norman and a new broomstick anchored putter, however, started a trip back to the top, and that culminated this April at Augusta National. Scott not only started winning again on Tour, but he also became a repeated threat at the majors. Before his victory at Augusta this year, he had finished second and eighth in his prior two Masters. And then there was the crushing, inexplicable collapse at the British Open just nine months before the 2013 Masters.
After making four straight bogeys to give away a four-shot lead and the Open to Ernie Els, the label of choker attached itself firmly to Scott and he started to carry that stigma as one of those supreme talents who should win majors, but couldn't handle the pressure. Of course, there's no way to measure that in golf but Scott seemed like the newest and most high profile target -- someone completely unreliable on Sunday at the biggest moments in the biggest events.
Well, that was all set aside in 2013, a year Scott finished as the No. 2 ranked player in the world. The career-defining win finally came at Augusta, where Scott started the final round in the second-to-last group. No Aussie had ever won the Masters, despite repeated close-calls and a couple Norman collapses. Yet three Aussies -- Scott, Marc Leishman, and Jason Day were all playing in the last three groups of the day and within two shots of the lead held by Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.
After going out in even-par 36 on Augusta's first nine, it looked like this would be another middling Sunday for Scott, one where he failed to make a move and turned in another top 10 at a major. But coming in under steady rains, Scott picked up three birdies to post a 33 and get to 9-under with the clubhouse lead. It was one of those classic "back nine on Sunday" shuffles, and Scott was all of a sudden standing there with the lead thanks to an amazing putt on what was presumably his final hole of the tournament:
As we noted in No. 5 of our countdown earlier this week, that putt was the start of the most dramatic five-minute stretch of the season. Angel Cabrera would quickly stem the Aussie celebration and not make it easy, sticking his approach shot for his own incredible birdie to force the extra holes.
With the rain coming down, and darkness setting in, both players hit the 10th green for what could have been the last hole of the day. By his own admission, Scott could barely see up on the green and relied heavily on caddie Stevie Williams to change up his read for the winner. The Aussie said it would have been too dark to make another putt that evening, so he made this one the last and ended his nation's drought at Augusta:
It was the most insane Masters weekend in recent memory -- perhaps the best since Jack Nicklaus' win in 1986. And thankfully, Scott was the caliber of player and star to cap it off with a playoff win.
Scott continued rolling the rest of the season, contending at both the British Open and PGA Championship before winning at The Barclays and making a run at the FedExCup. Basically, if it was a big event, Scott was threatening or the favorite. It all started with that final hour on Sunday at the Masters, and with that weight now lifted, we have a heavyweight 33-year old challenger who will be around the top of majors leaderboards for at least another decade. His swing is largely considered the best and prettiest in the game, and the win at Augusta may set aside all the other outside stuff that inhibited multiple major wins.
In almost any other year, the finish by one of the game's bigger stars at its biggest tournament would top our list. But in 2013, Scott's first major championship slots in as the No. 3 story that defined the year in golf. I doubt he cares.