Adam Scott continued his homecoming parade today at Royal Melbourne by taking an early first-round lead in the Talisker Australian Masters and, in an eerie echo, following in the footsteps of Greg Norman 27 years ago.
Only days after cruising to a four-shot win in the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Pines – the first leg of his own private Aussie Slam – Scott teed off at 8am Thursday and strolled around in a four-under 67.
Even when he hit poor shots, such as his second to the par-four 18th, which missed the target 25 metres to the right, the Masters champion made an effortless up-and-down from the bunker to save par.
He then birdied the next four holes on his card – the first, second, third and fourth – to get to five under before an uncharacteristic error on the par-four eighth brought his only bogey of the day. His 67 left him content but not so satisfied that he didn’t head straight for the practice fairway after walking off the final green.
On a cold, blustery day at Royal Melbourne, Scott was later leapfrogged by South Australian Nick Cullen, who pieced together a fine six-under 65, despite dropping a shot at the last. Cullen, a left-hander, won the Queensland Open earlier this year so is no stranger to the leaderboard.
Until he signed off at 4.30pm for his score, the lead belonged to Scott and Germany’s Maximillian Kieffer – a player who until today had not played the back nine at RM’s famed composite course. He had arrived from Turkey on Tuesday and rain had sabotaged his two attempts at a full practice round, so he had only seen the front nine.
Mercifully his full-time caddie in Europe, Graham Heinrich, is a Melburnian who was able to guide him around the nine holes he hadn’t seen. ”My expectations teeing off today were very low,” Kieffer said. ”There’s a 10-hour time difference between here and Turkey, and I hadn’t seen half of the holes … so I’m very happy to be in this position.”
Scott’s effort in coming back to Australia this summer to play the majority of the abbreviated local tour has, for those with long memories, parallels with Norman’s performance in 1986.
That year, the Shark – as many will recall, probably with a shudder – led all four majors going into the final round.
Through fate and his own fallibility, Norman contrived to win just one of those four: the British Open at Turnberry. His unfulfilled feats spawned a new phrase: the Saturday Slam.
Yet Norman’s astonishing level of consistency on the PGA Tour that year, and first major triumph, rocketed him to the world No.1 ranking, a position he was to hold in total for 331 weeks over the next decade.
So he was the game’s pre-eminent player – the Tiger Woods of his day.
And yet Norman found time that year – such was the pressure on him to come back and support the Australasian circuit – to play in and win the Queensland Open, NSW Open, South Australian Open and WA Open at Lake Karrinyup.
From the British Open to the SA West End Open: it was the rough equivalent of Roger Federer winning Wimbledon then heading home and stepping out in his whites for the Geneva, Zurich, Basle and Lausanne Opens.
Scott is now the world No.2, having leapfrogged Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and others this year, and slowly making ground on the perennial fixture at the top of that list, Tiger Woods.
Yet, to his great credit, he has come back home to play four straight events in Australia because he felt a responsibility as our first Masters champion to support the local tour (and, of course, show off the bottle-green fashion accessory that comes with winning at Augusta).
After winning his first major, Scott has done exactly what Norman did in 1986 and returned home to play a near-full schedule.
“I felt I should do a little bit extra this year,” Scott said. ”Because I know how big the Masters win was in Australia.
“But it’s not a hardship posting: I slept in my own bed last week, I’ve got two weeks at Royal Melbourne then the Australian Open.”
Scott has now won the Australian PGA Championship, is well placed early in the Australian Masters, and has the World Cup then Australian Open to come.
If he can somehow prevail in those four events, then the No.1 ranking will be within touching distance – and he will have almost mirrored the achievements of Norman, his fellow-Queenslander, long-time mentor and continued inspiration, all those years ago.
Charles Happell is a senior writer at Back Page Lead.