Can Adam Scott win his first major this year?
Photo: Getty Images
BURNING QUESTIONS FOR 2013: Will Scott end Australia's seven-year major drought? Or will his nerves and a new putter cruel his charge?
For many Australian golf fans, 2012 will not be defined by Rory McIlroy's inevitable rise to the top, or Tiger Woods' Lazarus impersonation, or even Bubba Watson's miracle shot on the second playoff hole at Augusta.
No, the lasting memory for those who were (un)fortunate enough to witness it will be Adam Scott's agonising collapse on the final day at Royal Lytham and St Anne's.
With a four-shot lead and four holes to play, Scott looked safe - but then his game completely and inexplicably collapsed. Both his long and short game deserted him. The result was four successive bogeys that handed Ernie Els - who was without a major championship win in a decade - a memorable victory.
It was a performance that echoed Greg Norman's painful collapse on the final day at Augusta in 1996 - but unlike Norman, Scott's choke won't mark the end of his time as a genuine contender.
Instead, Scott should take heart from McIlroy, who recovered from a horror final round at the Masters in 2011 to dominate world golf the following year. The Australian might not be in McIlroy's league when it comes to prodigious talent, but he has more than enough to win a major. Importantly, he now knows what it's like to lose one. And more importantly, he should have ample opportunity to contend as long as he plays well enough.
For much of the past decade, the winner of a major tournament was defined less by how well they played than how well Tiger Woods played. If Woods turned up with his A-game, the trophy was more often than not his. That's not the case now. While Woods is still a ferocious competitor, he is not the force he once was.
The past 12 majors have been won by 11 different players. Only McIlroy has won more than once in that time. He deserves his place atop the world rankings but the gap to the challengers isn't as great as it was under Woods' reign.
Assuming that McIlroy doesn't go on a Tiger-style rampage in 2013 - and that is no certainty, given his gifts - Scott must concentrate on playing well enough to contend.
Consistency hasn't been his strong suit over the past two years, but he can play well in patches. Witness his third place at the AT&T National on the PGA Tour in the lead-in to the Open, or his five top-10 finishes in six starts to close out the year, finishing with his only win for the season at the Australian Masters.
Scott's ability to play well at the big tournaments also works in his favour. His worst result at the majors in 2012 was a tie for 15th at the US Open, while he also added eighth at the Masters and tied 11th at the US PGA to his CV.
Perhaps the greatest unknown is his putting. Scott's consistency on the greens improved dramatically when he switched to the broomstick putter at the start of 2011, but the long putter will be gradually phased out of the game ahead of a proposed ban from 2016.
Scott has already started testing new putters and strokes, most notably in practice rounds at the Australian Open at The Lakes this year. But technical changes to any part of a golfer's game are always fraught with risk, and can take a long time to become second nature.
If Australia's No.1 can bed down a new putting stroke in time to take it to Augusta in April, we could well see him challenge again. Two top-10s in the past two years suggests the green jacket is the major trophy he is most likely to win.
So the answer? Yes, Scott can break through in 2013 to become Australia's first major champion since Geoff Ogilvy at the US Open in 2006. But plenty has to go right before he even gets to challenge on the last day - and even then, none of us will know whether the ghosts of Royal Lytham and St Anne's will rear their nerve-racking heads. Not even Adam Scott.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
Follow BigPond Sport on Twitter: @bigpondsport