Adam Scott leans back, settling into his chair and reflects on the meaning of the Open Championship.
“I think it’s the greatest tournament in the world,” he said, finally. “It’s really the one you want to win.”
But then the penny drops and he catches himself.
“Well, except for an Aussie,” he said with a smile.
“Because an Aussie always wanted to win the Masters.”
And this impossibly handsome, bronzed Aussie did just that, spectacularly, in April, ending a 79-year drought that turned Australians into antipodean Cubs fans, believing in curses.
Now that the hangover has worn off — Scott admits he spent weeks after the Masters wearing his green jacket “with my head in the clouds” — he’s back to where it all began, at this week’s 142nd Open.
“Lytham definitely is part of my journey to winning the Masters. It played a huge part in my development as a golfer,” Scott said.
Last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Scott — who turns 33 Tuesday — held a four-shot lead with four holes to play.
His long-in-the-making major breakthrough required just two more pars.
Instead, he stumbled, making four bogeys and handed his good mate, Ernie Els, an unlikely fourth major.
It was the sort of crushing loss from which many golfers never recover.
But instead of destroying him, Scott was steeled by the experience, and armed with the belief that he could outplay the world’s best players on the biggest of stages, won at Augusta.
“There’s no question a defeat like Lytham plays out one of two ways,” said his caddie, ex-Tiger Woods bagman Steve Williams.
“Luckily for Adam, he looked at it and said, for 68 holes I played the best golf I could’ve played.”
Scott says it would’ve been easy to “question everything in hindsight.”
“It would’ve been easy to say, ‘You did everything so wrong’ but I don’t think I did,” he said.
“It was just that I wasn’t tough enough.
“You’ve got to stand there on 15 with a six footer or whatever I had for par and believe that’s the putt to win the Open. But I was almost too relaxed.
“It was more like, ‘Well, I’ve got a few up my sleeve’ and I hit a really weak putt. And that annoys me.”
And he learned his lesson; at Augusta he made all the short putts he had to, which allowed him to make the two that really counted at the end.
Now, Scott is looking for more.
His mentor — and boyhood idol — Greg Norman thinks he can win more majors than any Australian. That would mean eclipsing the five claret jugs won by Peter Thomson who, ironically, gave a 12-year-old Williams his first caddying experience, in the New Zealand Open.
Scott’s peers — who know how well he strikes the golf ball — wouldn’t be surprised to see him win more majors.
“Just like he was well-equipped to handle the disappointment of Lytham, he’s equipped to handle (the Masters success),” said Geoff Ogilvy.
“Majors are hard to win, but outside the Tigers and Phils, Adam’s the sort of player who could win a bunch more.”
Scott was once — unfairly — branded the “next Tiger.” Instead, he sees parallels with Mickelson’s career.
“He knocked on the door a lot of times before he won (a major),” he said.
“Sometimes you just don’t win when you walk up there the first time. Hopefully for me it’s a similar kind of thing in that the floodgates opened for Phil after he finally got over the hurdle.
“He didn’t let that one major be it. He didn’t take his foot off the gas.
“I feel like if you want to become one of the greatest players in the game, you have to keep your foot on the gas.”
After a disappointing U.S. Open — he was one off the lead after the first day but poor putting saw him fall to tied for 45th, his worst finish at a major in two years — he’s ready to take on Muirfield, his favorite course in the Open rota.
“I’ve had good feelings on the range,” he said. “I’ve been hitting it with a purpose and with really clear thoughts again for the first time probably since winning the Masters.”
Scott’s aerial game has never been especially suited to the links, but the uniqueness of the tournament, and playing the ball along the ground, has grown on him.
“I love that it’s called The Open Championship,” he said.
“You had Norman and (Tom) Watson almost winning, then Darren (Clarke) coming back to make his dream come true in 2011. It doesn’t get any more open than that.
“It’s really maybe the fairest of them all and the atmosphere is just like nowhere else.
“If I’m completely honest I think the Open was the last major that I thought I might be a chance to win.
“Not because I don’t like it but because I never got a sniff of it — and I’ve played a lot of them –—and never really got comfortable with the links.