DORAL, Fla. – Adam Scott atop the leaderboard at Doral was somewhat surprising, although it has nothing to do with his game.
It just seems as though no one has seen him anywhere this year.
The 31-year-old Australian is trying to cut back on the traveling, and putting more emphasis on valuable time practicing. That explains why Thursday in the Cadillac Championship was only his sixth round of the year.
And the Masters is only a month away.
Faced with demanding conditions — which at the Blue Monster means big wind — Scott did a superb job of keeping his tee shots in the fairway to set up birdies. Then, it was a matter of hanging on for a 6-under 66 to share the lead with Jason Dufner.
"When you're in the fairway on a day like today, you get a chance to hit it somewhere near the hole, give yourself an opportunity," Scott said. "If you're in the rough, it's very hard to even just hit the green, let alone give yourself a chance. I took advantage of the good shots early on, and then battled my way in from there."
It was an admirable effort for anyone, let alone a guy in only his third tournament.
The wind was fierce and relentless and capable of ruining any round at any moment. Steve Stricker was tied for the lead until making three bogeys over his last six holes. It was even worse for Sergio Garcia, who was one shot out of the lead when he walked off the 12th green and signed for a 75 — five bogeys, and then two balls in the water on the 18th for a triple bogey.
It was a battle all day for Rory McIlroy in his first event as No. 1 in the world. He twice flirted with the water, had a three-putt bogey and wound up with a 73.
Tiger Woods wasn't much better. He began his round with a tap-in eagle on the par-5 first hole, but narrowly missed the fairways and had a tough time figuring out the wind and whether the ball would jump out of the rough. Woods badly misjudged the line of his chip on the 18th hole and closed with a bogey for a 72.
Scott attributes his play to being fresh, as well as hungry to compete.
"Look, there's no secret," Scott said. "I played a lot of tournaments all around the world for like 10 years. That takes it tolls. So I just do what feels best for me. I'm out here with the goal to be the best player I can be and get the most out of my game.
"This balance between and practice and being able to come out ... if you starve a guy of playing a little bit, he'll be desperate to compete. He'll find a way to get in the mix, you know what I mean? Just starve me a little bit and I'll find my way into contention."
Dufner made bogey on the 18th, but that was the middle of his round. He took advantage of the downwind holes on the front side with birdies, then holed a birdie putt from just inside 30 feet on the fourth. He closed out his round with a 7-iron to about a foot.
"A lot easier to finish on nine than 18," Dufner said.
Scott also finished on the par-3 ninth hole. He was hitting the ball so well in the early part of his round that when someone asked him how caddie Steve Williams helped him, Scott smiled and said, "He just got out of my way today. I didn't ask too much of Steve out there today. I just aimed down the middle and hit it there."
Scott also had a short eagle putt on No. 1, and twice made solid par saves. His lone bogey came from a bunker on the sixth hole, where he missed a 4-foot par putt.
Only a dozen players managed to break 70, and a dozen more broke par. The average score was 72.7, and no hole was more terrifying that the par-4 18th, which was 471 yards dead into the wind, water hugging the entire left side of the hole and front of the green.
The average score was 4.74, which was more than three of the par 5s.
"I hit 3-wood into 18, par 4, and 7-iron into the first, which is a par 5," Luke Donald said after a 70. "Just a beast of a hole today."
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel made a par, and his reaction spoke volumes.
"Felt like an eagle," he said. "It's one of those where you just really have to take it on. There's nowhere out. I probably hit my best tee shot of the day down there, a beautiful 5-iron and ran off there with a 4. I'm very happy."
Schwartzel and Thomas Bjorn were at 68, while the group at 69 included Stricker and PGA champion Keegan Bradley.
"The course is playable. You can see it in the scores," Stricker said. "It's still playable, whether we have this kind of wind or not. So it's manageable out there, and you just have to play hard and play well."
Lee Westwood, playing alongside McIlroy and Donald in the traditional 1-2-3 group from the top of the world ranking, had a 76.
McIlroy was coming off a couple of big weeks — reaching the Match Play Championship final with a chance to go to No. 1, then winning the Honda Classic to get to the top of the ranking, all while Woods fired a 62 at him in the final round.
McIlroy said he was mentally flat.
"It's tough," he said. "When you're working, you've got Arizona and you've got a chance to go to world No. 1, and then Honda, you've got a chance ... then all of a sudden you're there, and you're like, 'What do you do?' I just need to go out and set myself a target tomorrow and try and post a number."
Woods made consecutive eagles, though they were four days apart on different courses. He finished the Honda Classic with an eagle, and started that way at Doral. The rest of the day wasn't that easy.
"It was just a difficult day," Woods said. "The wind was blowing putts around, and it made for a very challenging round."