AUGUSTA, Ga. -- At times during his first Masters round as defending champ, Adam Scott seemed most interested in coaching Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 19-year-old amateur who was borrowed from the old set of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"
Scott started the day by watching the absurdly youthful-looking Fitzpatrick make a mess of the first hole of the rest of his life -- and by thinking this was the nervous wreck he himself used to be.
"Great putt," Scott told the kid after he'd saved double-bogey. "Get going now."
The boy wonder embraced the pep talk, birdied the second hole and then listened as the 33-year-old star walked him down the fairways and talked to him about the weather, his fitness routine and his playoff victory over Angel Cabrera in the rain. Anything to relax the British winner of the U.S. Amateur whose developing mind was racing at video-game speed.
Scott and Fitzpatrick looked more like a big brother/little brother routine in Wednesday's Par 3 Contest than they did competitors in the most prestigious tournament in golf. But as neighborly as Scott appeared, he made a statement Thursday that was as clear as the red numbers he kept putting on the board:
He's this year's Tiger Woods, just like he was last year's Tiger Woods.
In other words, he's most definitely the man to beat at the Masters.
Scott birdied the first hole and spent the entire day south of par, pushing it to 4 under at the 10th before he unleashed his only bad swing, the 9-iron at the par-3 12th that found the water and led to a double-bogey. Scott said he lost his focus on the shot -- and, hey, he had a pretty good excuse for it.
As he approached every tee box and green, the gallery practically treated last year's winner as if he were Arnold Palmer in his prime or Jack Nicklaus in 1986. But one particular reception impacted Scott like no other.
"The memory that will stick with me forever today was walking up to the 12th tee and everyone getting out of their seats as I approached there," he said. "It was great."
The ensuing shot was not. Maybe the moment got to him, maybe it didn't. Sometimes even the best of the best don't have a prayer at Amen Corner.
Scott three-putted the par-5s on the back for a pair of unsatisfying pars and yet still managed to finish at 3-under 69, one behind leader Bill Haas. When it was all over, his ease and confidence suggested that there would be more birdies to come over the long weekend and that he had replaced Tiger (out after back surgery) and Phil (eight shots off the lead ) as the most forbidding obstacle for the rest of the field.
And not just for this year, either. One green jacket can do that for you.
"There is a certain sense of freedom in the way you play," Scott said of the effect of finally winning a major. "And no doubt you can see that in the way Phil's played around here since breaking through [in 2004] and hitting some incredible shots that maybe if he had not had the success or the wins, he might not have hit, being a little tighter."
Scott isn't tight anymore, unless you're counting his abs. He sank those breathless putts on the 72nd hole and on the second playoff hole to beat Cabrera, to exorcise Greg Norman and the rest of Australia's Augusta National ghosts, and everything changed about his approach.