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Shark looks to jump-start Scott's game

10/7/2009 - Golf Adam Scott

SAN FRANCISCO -- Like any aspiring golfer from Australia, Adam Scott looked up to Greg Norman, idolized him, lived and died with his highs and numerous lows on golf's world stage.

So it was fitting five years ago when, on the eve of the prestigious Players Championship, the Shark offered his protégé a chipping tip that helped propel Scott to what remains the biggest victory of his career.

The joke back then was that Scott's swing was so close to that of Tiger Woods' that some wondered if it was better.

There is no joking about Scott's game today as he prepares to play in the Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course.

And that takes us back to Norman, the International team captain and probably the only guy this side of the Pacific Ocean who would have dreamed of putting Scott on his team given his -- to be kind -- lackluster play this year.

Norman surprised just about everyone when he made Scott, 29, along with Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, one of his two at-large selections to his 12-man squad that will take on the Americans beginning Thursday.

Scott's slump has dated to January, the last time he finished inside of the top 30 in any tournament.

"I have mixed feelings about it," said Butch Harmon, Scott's longtime instructor who decided (mutually with Scott) to take a break from working with him for the time being. "Adam is very fragile at the moment, mentally and emotionally, confidence wise. It's either going to be a godsend and he will play really well or ... it is a team thing and he can have a teammate pick up. Or he can continue to struggle and get scrutinized and maybe grow from it.

"I think Greg threw him a bone to try and help his confidence. They have been friends forever. [He might have said,] 'I think this is what you need. I know you can do the job.' If it doesn't, it can be a scary situation. I'm not sure it was a good thing. We talked about it after he was picked, and I'd rather see him take the rest of the year and really, as I say, get back in the dirt and work it out."

Scott has endured a perplexing slump this season in which he dropped from as high as No. 3 in the world as recently as June 2008 to outside of the top 60.

He has not posted a top-10 on the PGA Tour since a runner-up finish in January at the Sony Open, and has missed 10 of 17 cuts in 2009. His best finish since in the U.S. is a tie for 33rd at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, which hides the fact that he was a first-round loser. He did, however, finish T-4 at the Scottish Open on the European Tour in July.

At one point, Scott missed six straight cuts. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship -- shooting a first-round 82 -- and then again at the Wyndham Championship, following a first-round 66 with a 75. After a tie for 58th at The Barclays failed to advance him to the second FedEx playoff event, Scott figured to take some time off and regroup.

A week later, Norman picked him.

"Just being picked was good for my confidence," Scott said. "The way I practiced the last few weeks, I felt much more confident out on the golf course. I'm confident I'm going to play well."

"Sometimes a shot of confidence in the arm of an individual, just like giving him a spot, is what is necessary to turn him around," Norman said. "He's playing well, he's excited about being here and he doesn't feel there's any extra pressure on him."

After being selected, Scott told Norman that he would put in some work on his game to get ready for the Presidents Cup. He entered last week's Turning Stone Resort Championship -- the first time he has played in a Fall Series event -- and opened with a 68 before finishing 35th.

In Norman's defense, there was no other clear-cut choice. When Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship, he qualified for the team and bumped South Africa's Rory Sabbatini to 11th in the points standings. But Sabbatini had played poorly following his victory at the Byron Nelson Championship in May and had missed cuts at the first two playoff events leading up to the at-large selections last month.

Others in the mix for a selection such as India's Jeev Milkha Singh and Japan's Shingo Katayama also had not distinguished themselves. Scott was 14th in the standings and at least has the experience of three previous Presidents Cups with a 7-6-2 record.

"I think he's got a lot of pressure on him," said Ernie Els. "From us, we will support him. I know I will and I know Greg will. But he's going to be under the spotlight a little bit.

"But you know, this is maybe something he needs. He's been real quiet this year. I know he's been working hard at his game, but it just hasn't been functioning for him. Hopefully for him he has a great week. He's a great team guy, he's a great friend of mine. I'd love for him to do well, and hopefully I can play with him at some point."

Where did it go wrong? That's a question Scott has tried to answer, oh, about a thousand times.

"Bad habits creeping up over time," he said. "It's been hard to play and work through it. Hindsight is great. I wish I had taken a month off earlier in the year and just spent time on the range and tried to work it out. It's definitely been frustrating."

His relationship with Norman likely made all the difference in Scott's selection, which can be both a source of pressure and pride this week.

Scott, obviously, is looking at the latter.

"It's any kid's dream growing up in Australia, and for me to be involved is a dream come true," Scott said. "To play under him as captain, it's a great honor for all of us."

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