Adam Scott turns to a long solution

DORAL, Fla. -- Adam Scott wonders where the time went. He turned 30 last summer and officially transitioned from one of golf's young guns to grizzled veteran. He looks around in awe at the youth in the game -- and their games.

"They're seriously young," Scott said Saturday at Doral, where five players younger than him occupy spots equal or better than his T-5 on the WGC-Cadillac Championship leaderboard.

"Some of them are teenagers. I feel like I've been out here a long time. This is my 11th year. And it goes so fast. But it's nice. This is a serious wave of talent.

"Matteo Manassero ... made the cut at the Masters last year at 16. When I was 16, you wouldn't have thought that was possible, really. From him to Rickie Fowler ... there's five or six or seven guys in that age group. One day they'll be carrying golf."

It wasn't that long ago that the same thing was said about Scott, whose 68 on Saturday at the TPC Blue Monster at Doral put him two strokes behind leader Dustin Johnson.

An Aussie with a beautiful swing, good looks, easy-going personality and a couple of impressive wins to his credit, Scott was the next big thing when he captured the 2004 Players Championship.

At the time, his work with Butch Harmon brought comparisons to Tiger Woods, his action considered similar. That week, a key chipping tip from his countryman and idol Greg Norman helped him to what remains the biggest victory of his career.

Scott was just 23 at the time, and although he has added five PGA Tour titles, including the 2006 Tour Championship, and has amassed 10 other international victories, his career has been viewed as a bit of a disappointment.

He has just three top-10s in major championships, has missed 14 cuts, and has never really contended.

The culprit? Putting.

Last year was typical. Scott was 136th in putting average on the PGA Tour and 174th in putts per round. This year he is 183rd in putting average and 155th in putts per round.

"To putt poorly is no doubt more frustrating," Scott said when asked if it is worse to hit the ball poorly or putt poorly. "The game is built around putting. We all have our ups and downs with hitting.

"Sometimes I've felt like I want to hit it badly so I can at least have a few one-putts, by chipping it close. A lot of weeks I hit 13, 15 greens and shoot even par. It's very frustrating."

So earlier this year, after finishing 21st at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions and then missing the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Scott made a fairly substantial change.

At the urging of his swing coach, Brad Malone (also his brother-in-law), Scott went to a long putter. He first trotted it out two weeks ago at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, where he was defeated in the first round by Ben Crane. Last week at the Honda Classic, Scott shot 77-82 to miss the cut.

But he's found some form here, shooting rounds of 68-70-68 to give himself a chance on Sunday.

Although Scott won twice last year -- the Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour and the Barclays Singapore Open in November on the European Tour -- putting problems still prevailed.

"I win usually when I putt OK from 10 feet and in," he said. "I've been hitting it good for a year or so. For two weeks [last year] I putted well in close. I was up there and I won.

"[But] my short putting was really ruining my good golf. It was very frustrating, to the point where I just didn't really feel like playing. Every round most likely I'd leave two or three out there, and adds up to a lot at the end of a week. This has certainly given me a new bit of life out there. I've enjoyed putting with it."

Scott said the adjustment period of going to the long putter has not been very difficult, and seeing putts stay on line and making a few more than usual has taken the pressure off the rest of his game.

"I think there is definitely going to be a carryover effect in the long term," he said. "It frees up the chipping and the bunker play. You don't feel like you have to hit every chip stiff so you can make par. I think long term, there will be a carryover with it.

"It was hard work trying to get it around and not leave yourself 6 feet. And when you're trying not to leave yourself 5 or 6 feet, inevitably you're going to leave yourself 5 or 6 feet five or six times a round. Now I can just play. I don't really worry about anything. I just deal with what's out there."

Scott took just 28 putts Saturday, although he still ranks a pedestrian 44th in the field. But he leads the field in fairways hit (33 of 42) and is tied for third in greens in regulation (41 of 54).

And that tells you something about how important putting is in the game.

Scott will likely have to make a bunch of putts Sunday if he is going to come from behind to win for the eighth time on the PGA Tour.

Johnson, 26, took a 2-shot lead with a 7-under-par 65. Luke Donald, 33, Matt Kuchar, 32, and Nick Watney, 29, are tied for second. Three shots back is the trio of Scott, Rory McIlroy, 21, and Francesco Molinari, 30.

So out of the top eigh players on the leaderboard, five are younger than Scott.

Yes, as Scott said, the time flies.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.