Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Scott Wins Players

I spent about an hour with the engraver from Waterford crystal standing next to the 18th green yesterday at The Players Championship. A friendly Irishman, he joked that if Paddy Harrington won, “we’d need a bigger trophy.” “A-d-a-m-S-c-o-t-t, short and sweet,’ and we both laughed. “When do you think I can start,” he asked. “When he hits his second shot on 18 in the middle of the green,” I answered. The TPC at Sawgrass is fraught with peril through the final three holes, where the championship can be easily lost, or won, with one swing of the club. “It’s brutal,” is how Scott described it standing outside the media center.

His second shot on 16 wasn’t a good sign when he pulled it left into the rough. Though he made a nice chip and an easy par, left isn’t good on 17 or 18. So when he hit his pitching wedge in the middle of green on 17, left of where he was aiming, there was a little jitter in the crowd. Padriag Harrington went to the practice tee to warm up, even though Scott had a two shot lead. Harrington knows left is not good on 18. But when Scott smartly drove a 2-iron down the right side of the fairway on the final hole, the engraver started. Then stopped when Scott’s 6-iron second shot landed in the water, left of the green, never touching earth. “Not a good swing,” is how Scott described it, “just one of those things that happens around here.”

Just one of those things? Only when you’re 23 can you think that way. “A chip and a putt to win,” is how Scott recounted his thought process. Now that’s putting a positive spin on things. I just hit it in the water on the final hole of a big championship and am about to go down in history as the biggest choke in the history of the tournament, but “just a chip and a putt to win” is running through my mind.

Scott freely admits that he’s had fellow Aussie Greg Norman as his hero throughout his golfing life. Perhaps it was fate that he bumped into Norman in the practice area on Wednesday and asked for help with his chipping. The 1994 champion spent an hour trying to get Scott to accelerate through the ball on short shots. Apparently it worked, with Scott giving Norman credit for the variety of up and downs he made throughout the week.

“I wasn’t thinking about it, but I definitely used the new technique,” Scott said when I asked him about the lesson and his chip on 18. “It was the only shot I was kind of nervous over, but I said to myself, ‘just a chip and a putt to win.’ “There’s no way I would have been able to make that kind of chip with my old technique. Once it got up there, I didn’t let myself think of anything else but making that putt.” Maybe Scott didn’t think of anything else, but everybody else certainly was. Where does the playoff start?, was the thought on everybody’s lips. But Scott calmly made the putt, and the place exploded. “You should make that putt every time on perfect greens like these,” he explained. And that’s why he’s who he is. At 23 and already a two time winner on tour and 6-time champion around the world, everybody says he’s got the game to compete at the top. But it was those thoughts, those positive thoughts, those mental adjustments that showed who he is.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Blame It On Drejer

Don’t the Gators wish they could blame it on Christian Drejer. They got to the NCAA tournament with a solid late run, especially in the SEC tournament, and fell flat on their face, again, in the first round. This time the opponent was Manhattan, a popular upset pick, but it didn’t look like Florida out there on the floor no matter who was sitting on the other bench.

“They just competed harder than we did,” Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan said in his post-game press conference. “I thought we were getting on a roll,” David Lee echoed, “but obviously I was wrong about that.” And Matt Walsh added, “I don’t see how guys can get to this level, to this tournament and not play all out.”

So who are they talking about? Obviously there was something missing in Florida’s effort, and both Lee and Walsh, along with Donovan were able to identify it. Who knows? Maybe you could say it was Anthony Roberson, or Bonnell Colas or Adrian Moss. But watching the game, none of those players looked like they were dogging it. But they also didn’t seem to grasp how you have to elevate your game in order to play in the tournament. Getting there is one thing, but making an impact is something else. The Gators haven’t made an impact in four years, losing in the first or the second round each time. Don’t underestimate the getting to the tournament part. It’s a big accomplishment to go back year after year. But twice, against Creighton and this year against Manhattan, they’ve been the fifth seed and have been upset by a number 12.

Getting beat by somebody who’s hot, who has a hot shooter, or hit a lucky runner at the buzzer is one thing. But getting beat to lose balls, having a short front line outrebound your frontcourt by nearly 3-1, is unacceptable. The phrase about competiting is just a euphemisim for chemistry and heart. And you can’t teach or recruit that. That has to come from within. The Gators tend to look around for somebody else to get the rebound or take the big shot when they’re faced with a challenge. That’s supposed to happen to the 12th seeded team, not the one who got to the title game of the SEC Tournament. But that’s been Florida’s M-O and unless things change drastictly in the off-season, they’ll be labeled as “soft” until they go out and change it. And as an athlete, or a coach, perhaps no label is more damming than that. “You’re soft,” is like saying, “you’re gutless.”

One thing Florida does have going for them is Billy Donovan himself. He won’t stand for it, and will find out who wants to play and who doesn’t. Maybe he’ll change his recruiting focus, looking for a couple more big bodies, but either way, you can expect Donovan to challenge himself and his players to make sure what happened in Raleigh doesn’t stick to them for long.