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March 16, 2013

Scott in the mix

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Adam Scott had a breakthrough with his short game this winter, and it’s so good now that he hardly even has to use it.

Scott had a putt for birdie on 16 holes in a second round that was without a bogey and without much stress. He wound up with a 5-under 66 that left him one shot behind 31-year-old rookie Shawn Stefani.

Stefani had to scramble more than he would have preferred, though he converted all the putts he felt he was supposed to make in his round of 70.

Temperatures finally began to warm, and without much wind throughout the day, the tournament was wide open going into the weekend. Stefani was at 7-under 135, one shot ahead of Scott and past champion K.J. Choi, who had a 67.

Twenty players were within five shots of the lead at the halfway point, a group that included everyone from Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar, to 19-year-old Jordan Spieth and Erik Compton, the two-time heart transplant recipient whose 65 was the low round of the day.

It was the highest score to lead at Innisbrook in five years.

Scott was right in the middle of it all, which is where he wants to be.

The Australian hasn’t shown too many scars from making bogeys on the last four holes to lose the British Open last summer. He finished the year by winning the Australian Masters, though it was a month later when he was working on his game at home on the Gold Coast that he experienced a significant turnaround with his short game.

“Just had a really nice feeling going that day, whatever it was, and I managed to get through the whole shag bag of balls hitting every chip the same,” he said. “Everything was very controlled and consistent. ... I’ve felt my confidence grow on the course with the pitching and chipping.”

Scott has a limited schedule before his next crack at a major next month. The Tampa Bay Championship is only his fourth event this year (and fourth in the last five weeks), and then he plans to shut it down until going to Augusta National.

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