Moving his play closer to the potential he has shown, Adam Scott had his best year ever as a golfer. He wound up third on the US PGA Tour money list and can move as high as No. 3 in the world ranking over the next two months.
None of that would have mattered if Scott hadn't a US PGA Tour victory.
Scott took care of that missing piece in the Tour Championship on Sunday by holding off every challenge that came his way, closing with a 4-under 66 to win the season finale by three shots over Jim Furyk.
"You can't be that [No.] 3 or 4 player in the world without winning tournaments," Scott said. "That shouldn't happen. I feel more comfortable in that position seeing I've won an event."
Staked to a three-shot lead on a cool, colorful afternoon of autumn at East Lake club, the Australian sank a slick, 5m birdie putt on No. 3 to turn back an early threat from Vijay Singh. When he saw Furyk and Joe Durant make a move, Scott responded with three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn.
For good measure, he turned bogey into birdie by holing a bunker shot on the 13th.
"That was a chance for us to pick up a shot, and we ended up losing a shot," Furyk said. "A guy gets a three- or four-shot lead and he keeps making birdies, he's tough to catch."
Scott finished at 11-under 269 and earned US$1.17 million to finish his US PGA Tour season with nearly US$5 million. With tournaments coming up in Australia, he will have a chance to surpass Phil Mickelson at No. 3 in the world ranking by the end of the year.
Furyk shot a 65 to match low round of the week, but never got closer than two strokes and trailed by as many as five on the back nine.
He played bogey-free golf over his final 31 holes. Furyk captured the Vardon Trophy for the first time with the lowest adjusted scoring average on tour at 68.86.
Scott was second at 68.95.
Tiger Woods had the lowest average (68.11), but failed to play the required 60 rounds. Woods skipped the Tour Championship for the first time, although he still would have come up one round short even if he had played.
"I'm wondering if anyone is going to put an asterisk on it because Tiger didn't play enough rounds," Furyk said. "But it's a nice honor. It's icing on the cake for a good year and a consistent year."
Durant closed with a 67 to finish third at 273 and end his season with a stunning turnaround. He was worried about keeping his card three months ago, then finished the year with five straight top-10 finishes, including a victory at Disney. He wound up 13th on the money list, making him eligible for all four majors next year.
Those consolation prizes were the best anyone could have hoped for against Scott.
"We just couldn't get anywhere near him, really," Durant said.
Scott has been regarded as one of the game's best young players since he turned pro at age 19, but he had stretches where he vanished. His goal this year was to be more consistent, and he couldn't argue with the results. He had nine top 10s -- six of those finishes no worse than third -- coming into the Tour Championship.
After missing the cut last week at Innisbrook, he fixed his flaws on the range this week with coach Butch Harmon, then ran away from the 27-man field at the Tour Championship.
It was his fourth career US PGA Tour victory, and it earned him the last spot at Kapalua in Hawaii for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship that starts the 2007 season in 61 days.
"It's been a long time since I've been here, winning on the PGA Tour," Scott said. "I had to work hard for it."
The next step is contending in the majors, and eventually moving closer to Woods.
"It might take awhile," Scott said. "But I think if I was to be No. 1 in the world at some point in my career, then I think that would be maybe the best achievement I could ever do in golf, to get past Tiger Woods."
Scott's performance was so strong that hundreds of fans headed for the parking lot when he made the turn with a three-shot lead, and no one got any closer the rest of the way.
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