PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Beware of Adam Scott, and not just because he is a prime contender at THE PLAYERS Championship, only two strokes off the pace after 36 holes. More significant than this week's leaderboard is the big picture, and an overhead view of golf's landscape finds this supremely talented Australian back on Elite Street, where he belongs.
For a spell of two and a half years or so, notably a winless 2009, Scott was a man trapped in a dark rubber room, foraging about for the light switch. He knew it existed somewhere, and he felt sure he would find it. How or when was the question, but he could take solace in the footprints he felt below, too many to count because fellow pros are always stopping by.
"It's such a hard game and we all seem to go there at one time of another," Scott was saying after Friday's 70 brought him to a 6-under 138 aggregate and a tie for fifth behind co-leaders Zach Johnson, Kevin Na and Zach Johnson.
"My mind was in tatters, my golf was in tatters. A mess, both of them. But it happens. Lee Westwood fell off the map for a while, and worked himself back to No. 1 in the world. Then there's Ernie Els. At last month's Masters, he wasn't there. Hard to believe. We all struggle at times. But I've worked at it, and I'm comfortable again out here."
Scott surely appears to be as fluid as he's ever been, whether it's sinking a 28-footer for birdie with that long putter at No. 4 on Friday morning or, minutes later, saving par on No. 5 after his tee ball found a fairway bunker and left him with an awkward stance: heels on the grass, toes in the sand. A short around-and-out attempt at No. 9, his final hole, deprived him of a birdie, but nothing fazes Scott now, not even us experts who suggest his handsome mug belongs on the side of milk cartons.
THE PLAYERS is Scott's fifth tournament in this 2012's fifth month. Your mailman plays more golf, or certainly Josh Beckett. But we should not forget that Scott underwent a tonsillectomy coinciding with this season's start. It cost him two events in Hawaii; it also eliminated a vexing health issue. On multiple occasions, he would develop a fever for a week or so and experience difficulty swallowing. Before it's all over, Scott says, he'll log his 17 or 18 starts this year and we can all relax.
In Scott's last appearance, at the aforementioned Masters, he wobbled on the front nine of a major he almost won in 2011 and opened with 75. But he closed with 66, a flourish that secured a T8 and probably reinforced his belief that he can and should contend whenever he steps inside the ropes. Also, being comfortable again doesn't necessarily equate to being satisfied. Friday, after a long round, interviews and no lunch, Scott adjourned immediately to the practice range beside Brad Malone.
"He got me at the lowest of the low and has been a great teacher," says Scott. "An Englishman, I've known him for a while, he's seen me hit more golf balls than anybody besides Butch Harmon. I had to make some drastic changes, and that was one. Butch had watched me since I was 19, but after 10 years, our lives had changed. Butch didn't want to travel as often from his base in Las Vegas, and I didn't want to travel there as often. We still have a great relationship, but Brad has been terrific.
"So has (caddie) Steve Williams. A tremendous asset to me. He and I have the same beliefs about how to play the game and how to prepare. He's also a dead-straight shooter who is not afraid to voice his opinion and give me a boot in the behind when I need it. Steve really knows golf and I'm glad to have him at this point in my career. I haven't accomplished all I've wanted to in the first 10 years, so I want to do more in the next 10 years."
Scott is the quintessential gentleman in an industry that thrives because it adheres to hoary ideals such as accountability, decency and respect. In 2006, two years after he won THE PLAYERS and before he took his turn in the dark rubber room, Scott shot 82 in the third round here. Upon signing his scorecard, he promptly headed to a sea of spectators seeking autographs. That's just him, but because his mood isn't married to his scorecard -- Scott still isn't married, period, ladies -- he is target practice for self-appointed psychologists who police passion. If they decide you lack it, you're on their hit list until further notice.
In fact, Scott moved his primary address from London to the Bahamas to be closer to his job. The practice facility is excellent, as is the gym, and it's an Aussie-like outdoors lifestyle that includes a dip in the ocean at day's end. But golf is his occupation, and he embraces it. Still, one magazine snapshot of Scott posing with a surfboard is worth a thousand words about how he would rather be chasing the perfect wave instead of No. 1 in the world rankings. And so yawn. If he were loud and arrogant, we'd probably say he cares too much and should tone it down.
Scott is often selected as one of the best-dressed athletes, but he manages that with understated class, too. He doesn't wear clothes as if to scream for attention, and this is not a writer who gets his suits from the Salvation Army talking. These are experts who hail Scott's wardrobe. Which doesn't mean he is opposed to some of the fashion plates around him.
"Rickie Fowler is great for the game and he looks great," says Scott. "I couldn't wear all orange and I don't think he will be wearing all orange when he's 31, either. But he's young and he's doing just fine out there."
Bob Verdi is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.