Butch Harmon walked briskly across the room and hugged his student,
a young man who swings like Tiger Woods, works out and had just won
the Players Championship like Tiger Woods. Soon-to-be-superstar
Adam Scott, 23, gladly lost himself in his teacher's embrace.
Scott had been telling reporters how he'd had the Players in hand,
seemingly lost it and then miraculously won it back, when he
spotted his coach and excused himself. After their warm,
20-seconds-that-seem-like-a-lifetime hug, the 60-year-old Harmon
was teary-eyed but also smiling, as if he'd just become a
grandparent. It seemed fitting, since Harmon, who gained a measure
of fame as the man who taught Tiger, may have begun a second act as
the man who taught the Next Tiger. That would be Scott, an
unassuming Australian who is sure to inherit that mantle after his
impressive, surprise-filled victory at the Players, the game's
first $8 million event and the PGA Tour's showcase in Ponte Vedra
The Players didn't simply get a great winner. It got a great finish
as well. Scott, who led after a first-round 65 and was still on top
going into Sunday's finale, ratcheted up the drama with eight
nerve-jangling minutes of play on the 72nd hole.
Scott stood in the 18th fairway with a two-stroke lead, having
survived the treacherous 16th hole and infamous island-green 17th
with pars. All he had to do to win was bogey 18, and all he had to
do to make bogey was hit his second shot either short of the green
or over the green or into the grandstands to the right of the
green. The only thing Scott had to avoid was the huge water hazard
on the hole's left flank. Since Scott had barely missed a shot
until that point, the tournament appeared to be over.
Except that Scott inexplicably yanked his ball into the drink.
"That shot was never going anywhere but the water," said Scott.
"Going from the middle of the fairway and cruising, to hitting one
in the water and having a chip and putt to save [victory] or you're
going to the last hole again, or not [continuing] at all.... It was
a roller coaster of emotion."
He took his drop near the green and faced a difficult chip to a
back pin. A chip and two putts would mean a playoff with the
formidable Padraig Harrington, who had finished eagle-par-birdie an
hour earlier for an 11-under 277 and was optimistic that he would
not be the runner-up in this tournament for a second straight year.
Scott chipped 10 feet short of the hole. After watching his playing
partner, Frank Lickliter, leave his putt short, Scott stepped up
and drilled his bogey try dead-center for the clinching
"What an incredible putt," said Kevin Sutherland, the second-round
leader who finished in the pairing ahead of Scott and tied for
sixth. "To hit a shot like Adam did into the water and then suck it
up.... That putt does not bode well for the rest of the PGA Tour."
Young guns come and go, and the line of Next Tigers is only
beginning to form, but Scott goes straight to the front. "With a
couple of victories under his belt, he can be doing what Tiger
Woods is doing," fellow countryman Greg Norman said on Sunday. "He
can eclipse all of us."
Besides the uncanny resemblance to Tiger's swing that Scott's
action bears, both players have a similar size and body shape.
Scott tried to copy Tiger's swing when he was growing up in
Queensland, Australia, just as every 14-year-old golfer does, and
with help from his father, Phil, who's a club pro, copied it better
than most. Scott attended UNLV for a year in 1998-99, and it was
there that he hooked up with Harmon. "When I first met him," Harmon
says, "I thought, I've seen that swing before. Everyone thinks I
created that motion. No, Adam showed up looking like that, and we
simply refined it. That was the way he was born to swing."
If Scott looks seasoned beyond his years, it's because he wisely
elected to spend four years playing primarily on the European tour,
where he won four times before breaking through on the PGA Tour in
2003. In Europe he could experience a greater variety of courses
and conditions than he would in the U.S. and so improve his shot
making. The keys to his recent surge, which includes a win at the
Deutsche Bank in September and a 55th-place finish on the 2003
money list, are the improvements in his confidence and in his play
around the greens.
His short game got an added boost the day before the Players when
Harmon asked one of his former students, Norman, to help Scott with
his chipping. Norman showed Scott how to keep the club face square
on the backswing and accelerate through the ball. "I owe Greg a
beer," Scott says.
His status as the Next Tiger was boosted by the fact that the
original Tiger didn't look like himself. Woods struggled with his
swing during an opening 75, creating some short-lived hysteria that
his streak of making the cut was in jeopardy at 119 straight. He
began the second round with a birdie and an eagle to ease those
concerns and went on to shoot a 69 to make the cut by two strokes.
Woods claimed that he isn't off by much, but last week he survived
only because of his magnificent short game. To hit barely half the
greens (40 of 72) and still finish 16th at three under par on a
firm, difficult course is remarkable. By the weekend he had
improved to the point that his misses were mostly going in the same
direction--right--instead of both ways. He also admitted that his
sore left quadriceps was bothering him. He hurt it, he said,
picking up a tee on the range at Riviera during last month's Nissan
The rise of the Next Tiger and the decline of the original may
confuse those handicapping the Masters. Scott will now rank among
the favorites, which is a huge step up for one of the 47 players
who finished behind 14-year-old Michelle Wie in January's Sony
Open. When Scott returned home to Las Vegas after that tournament,
his locker at the Butch Harmon School of Golf was plastered with
pictures of Wie, alongside one that showed him holding the trophy
from the Deutsche Bank. On that photo was scrawled, MICHELLE WIE
WASN'T IN THE FIELD.
When he learned on Sunday night that Wie had finished fourth in
the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Scott grinned and said, "I guess I
got her this time."
I'VE SEEN THAT SWING BEFORE."