Rory McIlroy has the sole lead in the clubhouse after Day One at the Open Championship, but nobody was more impressive on Thursday at Royal Liverpool than Adam Scott.
His four-under-par round tied him with Shane Lowry as the lowest score from the afternoon groups and puts him tied for third place after the first 18 holes. With his clutch putting and lengthy driving, the world No. 1 has announced himself as a big-time contender at Hoylake.
Scott, who finished as the British Open runner-up in 2012 and tied for third last year, is two shots behind McIlroy and one shot behind Matteo Manassero. He is tied with a talented group at four under that includes Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia.
However, besides Scott and Lowry, the rest of the leaders played their rounds in the morning, when the wind was minimal and putts were staying still on the greens. As the day wore on, the conditions were much more reminiscent of a typical British Open: windy and unpredictable.
Of the 18 players currently tied for 10th or better on the leaderboard, 15 of those men teed off in the favorable morning conditions. Only Boo Weekley at three-under par and Lowry managed the afternoon winds as well as Scott did.
"I really think it's in the preparation," Scott said on ESPN after his round. However, he did feel like he left a few shots out there, particularly on the par fives.
"It could have been better, but I'm certainly not complaining," he said with a smile.
Scott, who just turned 34 on Wednesday, is the top-ranked golfer in the world. But with Tiger Woods returning, McIlroy making all kinds of headlines, Phil Mickelson defending his title and Justin Rose coming in on a hot streak, the Australian was practically the forgotten man coming into this week.
He couldn't have cared less, though. He talked with the media about his mindset headed into the Championship, as reported by Tony Jimenez of The Sydney Morning Herald:
I am very much looking forward to trying to keep momentum from the last two years going. There is nothing else on my mind right now other than executing this week.
I'm playing some of the best golf of my life at the moment so I should really be taking advantage of it and stepping up and putting myself in with a good chance.
I got up here on Thursday and I've played every day...with the idea of getting very comfortable and familiar with the course.
As the focus was elsewhere, Scott took some time off after his tied-for-ninth finish at the U.S. Open and came to Hoylake a full week early to prepare. Instead of dwelling on his near misses from the past two years, he focused on the positive.
Still, even if Scott wasn't focused on his close calls, others did that for him.
After his first round on Thursday, Ian O'Connor of ESPN.com wrote that even though Scott won the Masters in 2013 and now is ranked No. 1, the only way for him to conquer his past British Open demons is to find himself holding the Claret Jug:
Adam Scott has won the Masters, and nobody can ever rip that green jacket off his broad shoulders. But the popular notion that Scott's triumph at Augusta National in 2013 effectively erased his Open Championship meltdown in 2012 does not hold up against the standards of common sense.
Scott held a four-shot lead with four holes to play at Royal Lytham and then gift wrapped the Open to Ernie Els with a bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey finish. Fair or not, that bogeyman will remain in Scott's closet (right next to that green jacket) until he wins golf's oldest major.
Assuming he wins golf's oldest major, of course.
On Thursday, Scott started off with three pars before catching fire, shooting two birdies and an eagle on the remainder of the front nine. Heading into the clubhouse, he hit two bogeys and two birdies to come out even on the back nine and finish with a 68 on the day.
Every time he hit an errant shot, he was able to recover in style. The 18th hole was a perfect example of that.
Of course, Scott is way too great of a player to let a solid first round give him a big head. He knows that it's all about staying the course over the next 36 holes and putting himself into contention on the final Sunday.
If he is able to do that, this time he will know how to handle the pressure much better than he did in 2012.
Eight years ago, the last time the British Open was held at Royal Liverpool, Scott finished tied for eighth. At the time, it was his best finish at a major. He's a different player now, one who has earned the right to be satisfied with nothing less than a win.
The weather is supposed to be steadier again on Friday morning, and this time Scott will be out there to take advantage. But as he proved on Thursday, he doesn't need any help.
Winning an Open Championship takes talent, resilience and a hefty dose of both confidence and patience.
At long last, Scott seems to have all four components at once.
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