AUGUSTA, Ga. — Adam Scott's dream week reached a fitting crescendo Thursday afternoon when the defending Masters champion approached the 12th tee in the heart of Amen Corner.
"The reception into every green and almost every tee box was incredible," he said later, "and the best one, the memory that will stick with me forever today, was walking up to the 12th tee and everyone getting out of their seats as I approached there.
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"It was great, the level of respect that everyone has for this golf tournament and what happens here."
Then Scott smiled, and added this twist to his storyline:
"Then I went and hit it in the water."
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It was the only bad shot he hit all day, he said, and even though it resulted in an ugly double bogey, that mistake did not ruin his otherwise scintillating opening 3-under 69, which happens to be the exact score Scott shot last year on Thursday on his way to his first major victory. He's trailing first-round leader Bill Haas by just one stroke.
"It was really how you hope to come out and play at any major, and especially the Masters," Scott said. "I hit the one poor shot on 12, which obviously cost me a couple of shots.
"But … there's no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I've ever been in the past, because I didn't have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual, so that was enjoyable for me today."
Scott, 33, appears so at ease as defending champion that you can't help but imagine him becoming just the fourth man, and the first since Tiger Woods in 2001-02, to successfully defend his Masters title. The others are Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) and Nick Faldo (1989-90). Now there's an exclusive club.
He has savored every moment of his Masters reign here this week, taking his father out to play a round with him over the weekend, serving Australian barbecue at the champion's dinner and even handing out trophies while decked out in his green jacket during the kids' Drive, Chip and Putt Championship on Sunday.
There should be nothing surprising about Scott's solid play here Thursday. Although he hasn't won yet this year on the PGA Tour, he has been playing well of late. And he has grown to love Augusta National: after missing the cut at the 2009 Masters, he has finished tied for 18th, tied for second, tied for eighth and first.
"It's been a lot of good shots and some good, positive memories for me," he said. "And I hope I get on one of those runs where I'm one of the guys who kind of develops an affinity for the golf course like Phil Mickelson has and many other guys have as well over the years. I feel the course sets up well for me and while it's like this, I've got to take advantage of it."
Mickelson, who won the Masters three times in a seven-year stretch once he broke through in 2004, is a role model of sorts for Scott.
"There is a certain sense of freedom in the way you play, I think, and no doubt you can see that in the way Phil's played around here since breaking through and hitting some incredible shots that maybe if he had not had the success or the wins, he might not have hit, being a little tighter," Scott said.
It was only the opening round, and there was a long way to go, but Scott seems so genuinely pleased to be back at Augusta National that it's affecting his play in the most positive of ways.
"It was a thrill, really," he said. "We've been waiting eight months to play a major championship, and then to get here — and everything about the place — it's hard to calm down after you get going. … But having won last year, I kind of felt like, what was the worst that can happen? I'm still going to be a Masters champion."
He laughed at the thought, and the gathering of journalists in the press conference room laughed with him. Why not? They were looking at the happiest man in Augusta, at least for this day.
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