Adam Scott came of age at Sawgrass on Sunday. The 23-year-old showed that he is made of sterling stuff as he held on to take the Tournament Players Championship - what many consider to be the fifth Major, and rightly so for the field for this event is not restricted by whim but by merit.
Sawgrass is a remarkable place and it is clear that the tournament players love it for it is a shot-maker's course. It is not long by modern-day standards, at 7,000 yards, but it requires pinpoint accuracy for every shot as well as the judgement of Solomon. It was designed and built as a test for top players as well as a stadium for spectators and, in every respect, it fulfils these objectives completely. To birdie the 17th with its notorious island green must be very satisfying. It is not long at 135 to 155 yards but from the tee it is nevertheless intimidating. Anything from a 7-iron to a wedge is used with some remarkable finesse shown in shaping the shots to the contours of the green. But what is interesting about watching play at this hole is the height that these top players hit the ball and the way that it lands like a butterfly with sore feet. What is also astonishing is that only six players found water over four rounds of play.
One feels that the pinpoint accuracy at the 17th is not what the crowd around the 17th has assembled to admire since very early morning. Hitting the green is rewarded with an applause that even sounds reluctant. Missing the green is greeted with shouts and applause of approval. When Adam Scott hit the middle of the 17th late on Sunday afternoon, the collective sigh was clearly not one of relief but more a collective full stop to the ghoulish anticipation of disaster.
Had the armchair six-pack brigade from the circle seats about the lake waddled a few yards down the 18th fairway they would have experienced schadenfreude enough to satisfy them for another year. Scott, after having played a long iron off the tee for security, promptly plopped his second into the water. It was a shot that certainly raised the pulse for Harrington, he of the sparkling Irish eyes and the darling of Florida's matrons, had posted an 11-under par total. That Scott dropped a ball and got up and down with it, speaks volumes for his composure for if ever there was a buttock-clenching time in the lad's life, this was it.
Scott won with a 12-under par total. This is a long way from his hero and fellow Aussie, Greg Norman's 24 under par win in 1994, but Norman never had to contend with anything like the greens that confronted Scott this year. It rained for Norman and he was playing into soft receptive greens that made his shot playing appear stupendous. Without water of any significance for two weeks, Sawgrass' greens were bone hard, brown and unpredictable this year.
It was the state of the greens more than anything else that put paid to Woods and Els this year. The Tiger was wayward, as of late, but the miracles of recovery that have become his trademark about the greens could not materialise. He gave his usual value for money, however, for the fates conspired to partner him with Pod Harrington on Sunday.
Had Disney scripted it and sent out Mickey Mouse and every other DisneyWorld character he could not have staged a better show than that performed by the Tiger/Pod duo on Sunday. Indeed, it was unforgettable and the huge crowd that accompanied them exceeded in number and decibel anything seen before.
Tiger was the star of the front nine, putting on a show from places hitherto unvisited in Florida, while Pod swaggered along with his drunken sailor's gait waving happily in response to yet another 'top o' the mornin' to ya Paddy' in appallingly bad Irish accents. On the 10th tee, however, Tiger must have said 'over to you' for over the back nine Pod performed magnificently.
He played those final nine holes in 30 shots but that says nothing about the show that he put on. Tiger's smile grew broader and Pod's rolling gait overcame the laws of gravity as he holed putt after putt, ambling between tee and green through a cacophony of delight that was pure Music Hall. This was performance theatre at its best and both were clearly enjoying it for their smiles were fixed features as their play became rumbustuously cavalier. Pod even had the audacity to miss his birdie putt by a whisker on the 17th after walking round the lake with the Tiger to an ovation that even Arnold Palmer would have found overdone.
Adam Scott may have won the day but the man of the moment was clearly Pod Harrington. With his boyish good looks augmented by a blond hair-do, a smile wider than the Irish Sea and the disposition of a loveable Irish rogue, Pod is adored in the US and should he win in Augusta in two weeks time he will surely be canonised.
|| 30 - MARCH 2004