BY the time Adam Scott had reached the turn at Bay Hill yesterday, not even his golf ball wanted to be seen in public with him.
As the Australian became increasingly deflated in the Florida heat, his ball sought refuge in a water hazard, a series of bunkers and, belatedly, each of the course's 18 holes. Scott trudged after it every step of the way, before making for the club house two shots behind winner Matt Every.
It was a painful experience for Scott - who has also missed the chance to defend his US Masters title as the world No.1 - given the height he had fallen from. He held a three-shot lead at the top of the leaderboard going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His fall was hastened given his final round was laden with injudicious shots.
A handful contriburted to a bogey on the first after the world No.2 twice found the sand, before his drive on the third was hooked into the water to cost him another bogey. Scott was able to steady the ship a little with a chip to four feet to set up a birdie on the par-five fourth, but he would run aground again when he bogeyed the seventh after his tee shot plugged in a greenside bunker. Scott might have considered sticking his head in the sand too.
Those travails were made sharper by the rescue mission that playing partner Keegan Bradley conducted on his own ambitions - birdies on the 12th, 16th and 17th helping to force a play-off. Every then rallied to collect his first tour win, and within spitting distance of his old neighbourhood.
"It's really cool," said Every, who used to attend the event as a spectator. "I have had a lot of looks [at wins] and I kept telling myself maybe it's going to come somewhere special. I still can't believe I won."
Scott likely cannot believe it either. The Australian held the outright lead since the early stages of his opening round on Thursday, but that was no longer the case when Every recovered from a bogey on the eighth with birdies at the ninth, 10th and 12th to take the lead. Another birdie on the 13th took Every two ahead and the 30-year-old soon found himself three clear of the pack when Scott bogeyed the 14th.
Scott's tee shot had come up well short of the green on that hole. He elected to putt through the fringe, running his birdie attempt seven feet past the hole and then missing the return.
A significant swing in momentum looked to be on the cards on the 16th when Every pushed his tee shot into the trees and failed to find the fairway with his escape shot, eventually making a bogey six. In the group behind, Scott found the green in two with a towering iron shot as Every looked on, only to then three-putt for par to remain two behind.
Every then found a greenside bunker on the 17th but saved par after his recovery shot struck the pin and somehow stayed out. Scott's challenge ended when he failed to save par from the same bunker but Bradley sent a clever approach to 10 feet and holed for birdie.
A bogey from Every on the 18th then left former US PGA champion Bradley needing a birdie there for the second day running to force extra holes, but his long-range attempt slid just past the hole and left victory out of sight.
Martin Laird was certainly out of sight since the Scot carded a 78 to finish dead last. He is now certain to spend more time tending to his technique ahead of his Valero Texas Open defence later this week.
Laird - who finished nine over at Bay Hill - commenced his final round dropping five shots in his first three holes, including doubles at the first and third, before a sequence of three straight birdies. Any hope of a revival was then scunnered when he doubled nine holes after the turn.
"I just played terrible on the weekend so I am flying straight to San Antonio and will be out on the range with my coach, Randy Smith, the first thing in the morning," he said. "I haven't seen him for a while so I am going to wear him out over the next month or so. I came here not having played for a month but I didn't come here expecting to shoot nine over."