One of the most vexing labels in golf is "best to have never won a major," which is now affixed to Sergio Garcia with little debate. But there is another description that is even more burdensome, and it belongs to Adam Scott.
Best to never even contend in a major.
"That's the last thing he needs to do to get to the next level," swing coach Butch Harmon said Monday night. "You forget that he's won a lot of tournaments. But he's got to step up to the plate in the majors, and stop putting so much pressure on himself."
It is no disgrace that the 27-year-old Scott has not won a major. Those are hard to come by in the era of Tiger Woods, and it has become even more difficult in recent years now that Phil Mickelson has figured them out.
Only five players in theirs 20s, including Woods, have won majors this decade.
Perhaps even more startling is that in the last five years, only 13 players in their 20s have finished in the top five at majors. Garcia is the leader in the clubhouse with six top fives since 2003, which includes a playoff loss at Carnoustie last summer, and playing in the final group with Woods at Royal Liverpool the year before.
That's why the "best to have never won a major" tag fits Garcia better than anyone else. Along with his six PGA Tour victories and 10 victories around the world, he has eight top fives in the majors since he turned pro in 1999.
Scott turned pro a year later, and his record stacks up favorably to Garcia except in one major department.
The Australian's only top five in a Grand Slam event came two years ago at Medinah, where he tied for third in the PGA Championship, albeit six shots behind Woods. His closest call came at Whistling Straits in the 2004 PGA Championship, when he tied for eighth, three shots out of a playoff won by Vijay Singh
That he has not seriously contended is a mystery, and it only deepened with his victory Sunday in Irving, Texas.
Scott didn't earn any style points at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, but he showed plenty of heart. He took a three-shot lead into the final round, let it slip away with a tee shot into the water, rallied with a do-or-die birdie putt on the 18th, then atoned for two 10-foot misses by holing a 50-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole.
"I needed to walk out of here with a trophy," Scott said. "I needed to go and close this thing out, and it was tough, but I managed to do it. I feel pretty good about myself. It would have been a tough defeat. Even in tough conditions, to let go of a three-shot lead doesn't sit too well with many people, and that goes for me, as well."
Forget the majors for a moment and consider Scott's consistency.
His victory at the Byron Nelson put him in some elite company — with an asterisk — by winning at least one PGA Tour event each of the last six seasons. Only Woods, with victories in 13 straight seasons, has a longer active streak on tour. Scott's streak includes 2005 at Riviera, where he won in a playoff over Chad Campbell after rain limited the tournament to 36 holes, making it unofficial.
And while Scott hasn't won a major, he has won big events against strong fields.
The Aussie won the next best thing to a major in 2004 at The Players Championship, becoming the youngest champion at age 23. He ended the 2006 season with a victory in the Tour Championship by three shots over Jim Furyk. His first PGA Tour victory came at the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston.
But it all comes back to the majors, one glaring gap for a guy who seems to have everything.
His swing is so sound, so efficient, that he often was compared with Woods until the world's No. 1 player revamped his swing. He is blessed with movie star looks, and no scene was more startling than at Oak Hill at the 2003 PGA Championship when women were handing their hotel room keys to security guards to give to Scott.
His manners are simply impeccable. He treats everyone with equal consideration.
Maybe he's too nice, more lamb than tiger. His demeanor is in stark contrast to that of Garcia, whose temperament can hurt him as much as it helps. You won't see Scott spit into a cup, nor will you hear him complain about his endless run of bad luck.
But there was something that caught Harmon's attention late Sunday afternoon. With a chance to take a one-shot lead as he stood over an 8-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole, Scott left it short. He stood alone on the back of the green, lips pursed, anger visible.
"He was chewing himself out," Harmon said.
Ryan Moore made a 12-foot birdie ahead of him on the 17th hole to take a one-shot lead. Scott responded with a two-putt par from some 80 feet across the 17th, then two perfect shots and a clutch birdie to force the playoff.
To lose would have stirred memories of Memphis last year, when he blew a three-shot lead in the final round with a 75. Or at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where he missed three putts inside 10 feet on the final four holes to lose to Woody Austin.
"This is a big step for him," Harmon said. "It's big for his confidence."
It was his second victory this year, having won the Qatar Masters with a 61 in the final round, and it sends Scott to the Wachovia Championship and The Players Championship the next two weeks on a high.
He can only hope it's not another tease.
The real test comes six weeks from now at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.