Adam Scott let win, No. 1 slip away

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The line of autograph seekers was several deep and stretched well into the Bay Hill parking lot, sun-splashed fans screaming Adam Scott's name, the reigning Masters champ doing all he could to oblige.

He signed his name as often as possible, smiled along the way, even stopped for a few photographs with volunteers as he headed toward the locker room, a strange sort of therapy on what really turned out to be a lousy day.

With a chance to go to No. 1 in the world in his sights, with a solid victory at a prestigious tournament to put on his resume as his Masters defense looms, Scott stumbled in a bad way Sunday.

There's no other way to put it, but Scott doesn't deserve the No. 1 ranking playing as he did during the final of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Matt Every is a fine player, and his first PGA Tour victory will earn him a spot alongside Scott on the practice range at Augusta National in two weeks. But Every, nor Keegan Bradley, nor Jason Kokrak, had any business beating Scott over the closing 18 holes.

A player who strives to be No. 1, who yearns to add significant victories to his win total, who talks openly about capturing more tournaments and closing out the ones in which he has an opportunity, gets it done Sunday.

Scott did not.

"I'm annoyed that I didn't do better today," Scott admitted after shooting a closing 4-over-par 76 that included just one birdie. "Sometimes you've got to be hard on yourself, sometimes you don't.

"I was getting into a really good spot and I had an opportunity to run away with an event and really take a lot of confidence. I'm taking confidence anyway with some good play. But some opportunities you've got to take."

Scott spoke openly on Saturday about needing to finish off tournaments better, about needing to win when the opportunity presents itself. He'll likely never have a better one after opening with a 62, taking a seven-shot lead into the weekend, still leading by three through 54 holes and -- despite not playing well -- holding a share of the lead heading to the back nine.

But Scott, who has often been at the forefront of the anchored putting debate, putted poorly over the weekend. His struggles on the greens offered further proof that the anchored stroke -- which will be banned on Jan. 1, 2016 -- is not a cure for putting maladies.

Frankly, it's hard to imagine Scott putting any worse with any method. He took 32 putts on Sunday after needing 31 on Saturday. "The putts I had to make today ... they were too close," he said. "I was making long putts Thursday and Friday. I read the greens a little poorly, I must say. You need confidence in that, too, and after missing a couple over the last couple of days, doubts creep into your reads. You need to be certain. And I just wasn't 100 percent on."

There was no better example than at the par-5 16th, where Every provided an opening after making a bogey on an easy hole. With Every's lead cut to 2, Scott hit his approach 20 feet behind the hole, and had an eagle putt to tie. He ran that 4 feet by and missed the birdie. After finding a bunker at the 17th, he missed the 7-footer for par.

There were numerous examples, but those two ended up being the difference. "To stand there on the 18th fairway I would have had a chance to be tied playing the last hole," Scott said. "Not making those two putts is disappointing."

As it turned out, Scott needed only to shoot 74 to be in a playoff, 73 to win. And he wasn't going up against a bunch of world-beaters, either. Every, who bogeyed two of the last three holes, was ranked 94th coming in which says something because he's had four top-10s this season. And he's supposed to prevail over Scott?

Bradley has gone 18 months without winning and he could manage only a 72, barely missing a birdie putt on the last that would have forced a playoff.

"It's hard," Bradley said. "It's really hard to win. I just feel like the players are so good. From the first guy in the field to the last guy in the field. We all grew up watching Tiger [Woods] and you're seeing his generation play now. And they're not afraid to go win tournaments."

The problem is, nobody is stepping up to win them frequently -- at least not the elite players. Aside from Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed, who have combined to win five times this season, there has been little form among the established players. Walker and Reed have never played in the Masters.

Woods -- who will now likely keep his No. 1 ranking heading to the Masters in two weeks -- is dealing with a bad back and is off to the worst start of his career. Three weeks ago, Rory McIlroy had a chance to close out a victory at the Honda Classic, only to shoot a poor final round and lose in a playoff.

Only two players -- Zach Johnson and Sergio Garcia -- who began the year ranked among the top 10 in the world have won tournaments in 2014.

Scott said he would take some solace in learning that no player since Phil Mickelson in 2006 has won a tournament in the same year leading up to the Masters. A defeat here doesn't mean major glory isn't in his future.

But there is no glossing over this one. Scott, to his credit, took the high road and was a class act to stick around so long and visit with so many spectators.

He plans to spend the next few days practicing at Augusta National, and that promises to be an emotional experience as he returns to the place of his huge triumph for the first time since winning there in April.

Perhaps the drive down Magnolia Lane, hitting shots amid the dogwoods and azaleas (if they are even in bloom), soaking in the sweet memories will help drive the demons away, as big as they may be.