Adam Scott probably feels like the groom whose bride just ditched the wedding.
He may appear hopeful and optimistic in the media tent and as he signs boatloads of autographs, but there’s no denying the lingering, boiling, torturous pain of his final four-hole collapse two weeks ago at the British Open.
The Aussie, who sometimes looks more like a Ralph Lauren model than a professional athlete, squandered his four-stroke lead with four holes to go, surrendering the coveted Claret Jug to the “Big Easy,” Ernie Els.
It was undeniably one of the most memorable and jaw-dropping losses in Open Championship history, but Scott seems stable since the blow.
"To be honest, I really just felt a bit shocked and almost numb," Scott said Wednesday at Firestone Country Club, where he will defend his World Championship title. He continued (h/t Bob Harig, ESPN.com):
I certainly didn't beat myself up and have to curl up in a corner. It just kind of happened so fast, even looking back on it, how quickly it can slip away. And without doing that much wrong, it was just compounding mistakes. … The next few days were quiet, but they were just the same as after any other major. I pretty much find myself on the couch for about 48 hours after a major.
This week he enters the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational as both the reigning champ and golf’s most recent disappointment.
Scott conquered the challenging Firestone Country Club with poise last year. A key ingredient to his success was the man on his bag, Stevie Williams, who previously caddied for Tiger Woods during his record seven wins at Firestone. Like a chef in his kitchen, Williams could walk that course in a blindfold.
Once again, Scott will have Stevie by his side, but the momentum a typical reigning champion exudes feels elusive this week, almost murky and eerie.
That’s probably because no one expects a thing from Scott this week. Not a win. Not a top 10 finish. Nothing.
What makes the torment and anguish of Scott’s collapse so distinct was that it happened so quickly. Scott was a blueprint of consistency for 68 of 72 holes, navigating his way around Royal Lytham & St. Annes' 205 bunkers like Jordan penetrating through a sea of defenders.
He looked poised to claim his first major championship, but to no avail.
From the casual fan to ESPN’s prolific golf analysts, the sentiment is sympathy, not success, for Scott.
No one believes he has even the slightest chance at hoisting the trophy this week. Instead, Firestone will be more of a "bounce-back" tournament where a middle-of-the-pack finish will suffice, rather than a "rise to the occasion" World Golf Championship.
I don’t, and can’t, subscribe to that notion.
While pretty much everyone else assumes Tiger Woods will storm through the gates to capture his eighth victory at Firestone and 17th WGC victory, I’m pulling for Scott.
The underdog. The sleeper. The man condemned, playing with a vengeance not to prove anything to the world, but to himself.
When he tees it up Thursday, the 32-year-old Scott can take a page out of 23-year-old Rory McIlroy’s book.
Two years ago, McIlroy’s four-shot lead on Sunday at the Masters crumbled like a Jenga puzzle, with immediacy and without a chance of regrouping. Unlike Scott, who played 68 nearly flawless holes of major championship golf only to lose in the last four, McIlroy lost his identical four-stroke lead in his final nine holes and posted a brutal final round 80 for a share of 15th place.
Whether the young Northern-Irishman cowered and cried is of no consequence considering he recovered in record-setting fashion with a victory at the very next major, the 2011 U.S. Open.
After the British Open, McIlroy reportedly said (h/t Bob Harig, ESPN.com):
I sort of felt like I knew how he was feeling. I just said to him, 'Don't let the last four holes hide the fact that you played better than everyone else for the first 68.'
The number of players who’ve struggled to bounce back from a major collapse—Greg Norman, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia to name a few—far outweighs those who’ve persevered, making McIlroy worthy of emulation.
Take a second look at Scott.
He has everything going for him. Confidence in a swing that nearly won him the British Open. A caddy who might as well have designed the Firestone course. And the intangible—playing for something more than a trophy, more than glory.