Neither wind, a three-putt bogey at the 18th hole nor one of his best friends making a major move on the back nine could spoil Adam Scott's joyous afternoon in the final round of the Booz Allen Classic yesterday. When it counted most down the stretch, the 23-year-old Australian morphed back into a great Scott, and three birdies in his finishing five holes was plenty good enough for a four-shot, course record-tying victory that solidified his status as one of golf's most lustrous young stars.
Scott's longtime college rival, Charles Howell III, had put plenty of heat on the world's 15th-ranked player, who started his day with a six-shot lead and stretched it to seven when he finished his front nine. But Howell, at 25 another of the game's most talented young players, nearly shorted out electronic scoreboards all around with five straight birdies starting at the 11th that cut Scott's advantage to two shots when Howell birdied the 15th hole with an 18-footer.
Scott responded immediately, making birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 17. When Scott, standing on the 17th tee, saw Howell three-putt the 195-yard hole from 60 feet for his only bogey of the round, he could finally take a deep breath and enjoy the ensuing victory march, as well as the thought of an $864,000 champion's check soon to be deposited in his already burgeoning bank account.
Scott, who played at Nevada-Las Vegas, posted a solid 3-under 68, and only a 12-foot miss for par at the 18th cost him a chance to set the Avenel tournament record. His 21-under total of 263 tied the mark set by Billy Andrade and Jeff Sluman in 1991, but he had no complaints.
"I had no idea," he said when asked if he knew he was flirting with the 72-hole record. "I don't deserve to get it when I miss the first putt [a 60-footer after a second shot to the green from a fairway bunker]. I tied it, so that's a nice thing anyway."
Howell, who played at Oklahoma State, finished with a stirring 65 to end at 17-under 267, two shots ahead of defending champion Rory Sabbatini, who closed with a 66 -- 269 for third place. Washington native Olin Browne, who played with Scott the last two days, hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation and said, "I couldn't buy a putt. " He posted a 72 -- 273 that left him tied for seventh, his first top-10 finish of the season.
He also had the finest up-close-and-personal look at Scott's talent all weekend, and liked what he saw.
"The sky is the limit for him," Browne said. "He's got a long way to go; he's only 23. But he plays smart shots in, he putted beautifully and he's got a great short game. He's probably got another good 25 years out here. It was fun to watch."
Like most young Australians, Scott idolized countryman Greg Norman as a boy and built his swing on the early Tiger Woods model taught by Scott's coach, Butch Harmon. He earned the third victory of his PGA Tour career and second this season, and moved up to fifth on the PGA Tour's money list with $2.91 million. He has won four times on the European Tour and has won seven of the eight tournaments he's led going into the last 18 holes.
Scott, the youngest champion since the event moved to Avenel in 1987, played his final 18 holes like a seasoned veteran. He got a call from Norman on Saturday night, and the Shark chewed his ear off about some sloppy chipping he had watched on television in Scott's third round. Norman also has willed his longtime caddie, Tony Navarro, to Scott for as long as he cares to use him, and the man on the bag had no qualms about barking at his new employer on the 14th hole when Scott initially went for his driver at the reachable 301-yard hole.
"I wanted to hit driver pretty bad there," Scott smiled, "but I thought I'd listen to the wise man. . . . I reached for it and said, 'Do you like driver at the [greenside] trap?' And he said, 'No, not really.' So I just kind of put it back in. I thought he was pretty serious about that, so I took a 3-iron out. . . . For a caddie to say that on the 14th hole when you have a two-shot lead is pretty big. That's why he's one of the best out there."
Like all good caddies, Navarro insisted he had nothing to do with Scott's club selection, resulting in a chip and a 15-foot birdie putt at the 14th. He also didn't want to be drawn into any comparison between Scott and his long-time employer, Norman, but said: "The kid was great. They kept pressing him today, and he never backed off at all. It's been a while since I've seen great golf like that for a week."
It also had been a while since Howell scorched Avenel in Thursday's first round with a tournament course-record 61. He was seven off the pace when he started play yesterday and admitted it was "nice to play golf with nothing to lose. That's the mentality I had. I knew it was going to take a great round for me and a little bit of help from Adam."
Scott got a break when a wayward drive at the 524-yard 13th hole hit a tree down the right side, but got through with enough zip to hit a cart path and just keep on rolling. The ball stayed on the pavement and Scott was allowed a free lift. When his two drops rolled closer to the hole than allowed, he was permitted to place his ball down on the grass a club length from the path.
From there, with a sidehill lie and a tree in his direct route to the green, Scott hit a low, cut 5-iron that started left and bent perfectly right back toward the green, rolling to within 55 feet of the flag for an eagle attempt. Scott made a three-putt par instead, missing a six-footer for birdie that allowed Howell to stay in the hunt a little longer. But when Scott rolled in that 15-footer for birdie at the 14th, then hit a wedge to within four feet at the 467-yard 15th and made that putt, he had a four-shot lead with three to play and a very good idea the tournament was his.
He also knew that his drive at the 13th, flirting with out-of-bounds stakes before it hit the tree, was the most fortuitous happening of all.
"I got a good break and it clipped the tree and kept it going straight through there," he said. "You know, it could have gone anywhere I guess, but that's a bit of winner's luck. Everyone who wins gets a good break and that was probably my big break. [The second shot to the green] was one of those things that either comes off or it doesn't. I'm ashamed to three-putt, but I made up for it at the end."
Howell knew he had to settle for second-place money of $518,400 when he three-putted from about 60 feet at the 17th, missing an eight-footer for par. He also waited outside the scoring trailer behind 18 to watch his friend and college rival finish, and was there to greet him with a warm handshake and a smile before Scott went inside to add up his final numbers.
"Adam and I have been friends for a long time," Howell said. "I said to him 'great playing,' because that's what it was. I obviously felt I was making him sweat a little bit, and then he comes back with two birdies in a row [at 14 and 15]. That's awesome stuff there. I'd like to be friends with him for a long time, knowing we're going to be playing a lot against each other in the years to come."