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Augusta comfort factor gives Scott renewed major hope

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the second hole during a practice round in preparation for the 2013 Masters golf tourn
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the second hole during a practice round in preparation for the 2013 Masters golf tourn

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Battle scarred but wiser after a few close calls at the majors in recent years, Adam Scott believes his increased comfort level at Augusta National could make a winning difference at this week's Masters.

The athletic Australian has recorded top-10 finishes in his last two appearances here, with only the golfing gods and perhaps slightly better execution in the final round preventing him from landing a first grand slam title.

"The last couple of years have certainly shown dramatic improvement in my results in majors," Scott told reporters in the spacious interview room at Augusta National on Tuesday. "I've got all the boxes ticked and it's down to execution.

"A couple of times, I felt like I executed well enough to win, and didn't, and that could be just golf or it could be something else that I haven't quite got yet, I don't know.

"But I'd like to think that I'm doing the right things and I'm going to get myself in that position again a couple of times this year in the big ones and hopefully get over the line."

An eight-times winner on the PGA Tour, Scott had mainly struggled in his first eight appearances at the Masters but that all changed for the better in 2010 when he tied for 18th in the season's opening major.

"That was the turning point for me here," said the Australian, who went on to tie for second at Augusta National in 2011 and joint eighth last year.

"I played so nicely in 2010 and just found a level of comfort on tees and into greens, and even around the greens. I just got my eye in with the golf course, and then that showed up in 2011 for sure."

CRUELLY DENIED

A stroke in front with just two holes to play at the 2011 Masters, Scott was cruelly denied a first Australian triumph at Augusta National as South African Charl Schwartzel stunningly birdied the last four holes to win by two strokes.

"In 2011, it was just good to learn that my game took me to a place where I could contend," said Scott. "There was not much else for me to do other than birdie the last four holes, also, like Charl did," he smiled.

"I've watched a lot of Masters, seen a lot of finishes, when you have a one-shot lead on 17 and you make two fours, that usually puts you somewhere in a playoff or maybe win, but I wasn't even close.

"So that was out of my control. That was just a great week and a great Sunday, something that I look back on with good memories."

Scott's best chance to earn major glory came at last year's British Open when he squandered a four-shot lead with four holes to play at Royal Lytham for South African veteran Ernie Els to land the title.

Though stung by that near miss, Scott was proud of the way he handled the bitter disappointment before going on to win the Australian Masters at the end of the year when he was next in contention.

"I don't think about that much," Scott said of his late collapse at the British Open. "You've just got to get on with it. I was playing a week later and I was back out there and the following week was another major.

"There's no time to sit and feel sorry for myself that I didn't win The Open. I was trying my hardest to win the PGA (Championship). But when I got in a position to win again, that was when it was a gut-check time as a player.

"I had a chance to win a tournament in Australia and I managed to do it. That was good because obviously you don't want to make it a thing that you struggle to close out a golf tournament and that's never really been the case with me."

Scott will launch his latest bid for a Masters title when he tees off in the company of Spaniard Sergio Garcia and 2009 champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina in Thursday's opening round.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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