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Adam Scott trying to navigate road back to No. 1

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Scott connects on third birdie of day (0:16)

Adam Scott sinks a 20-foot birdie on the 16th hole at the Honda Classic. (0:16)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Adam Scott was not feeling his best Thursday at PGA National, but it had nothing to do with over-exertion.

The laid-back Aussie who is the highest-ranked player in the field at the Honda Classic is playing just his third event of 2017. Many of his peers have already doubled that total, but Scott, 36, has taken it easy, choosing to lay low after consecutive events in Australia late last year, with his eyes firmly fixed on the Masters.

Peaking for the majors has been a big part of Scott's plans the past few years, and he's changing it up this time, planning to play the week prior to each one, and skipping some tournaments he might normally play. At No. 7 in the world, he is considered among the game's elite, even if he seemingly has slipped into the background of late while others emerged.

Dustin Johnson took over the No. 1 ranking last week with his victory at the Genesis Open, a spot Scott held for a time in 2014. But even two victories a year ago, including the Honda Classic, couldn't propel Scott back toward that status, one he'd love to achieve again, but knows is a ways off.

"I'm not involved in it at the moment, I need about maybe six months to get there,'' said Scott, who opened his Honda defense with a 2-under-par 68. He trails leaders Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan by 4 strokes. "It's been fairly competitive. Jason (Day has) been solid at No. 1, but I've spent most of my career, or at least the first half of my career, it was just a non-event. It was just Tiger by double the points everyone else was on.

"I can honestly say for that time, I just ruled being No. 1 out of the equation. Fortunately I was patient to hang around long enough and have a run at it and got there. I think it's good for the guys at the top, they are highly motivated. And guys like me who sit a bit further back, and one of my big missions this year was to get back up and have a shot at going for No. 1 again before it's all too far gone for me. But it's a few months away of putting together some really, really solid golf before I could even possibly think about getting there.''

No doubt, the competition at the top is fierce. Johnson has been the game's most consistent player over the past year, and has seven top-6 finishes in his past nine starts.

Day held the No. 1 spot for most of the past year. Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth have all won events since Scott last posted a victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship nearly a year ago.

And to show how much ground he has to make up, the number of ranking points between No. 6 Spieth and No. 7 Scott (2.6671) is more than the difference between Scott and No. 29 Matthew Fitzpatrick.

All of which got Scott thinking back to 2014, when he was poised to take over the No. 1 spot. His Masters victory in 2013 helped get him to No. 2 in the world that year and he hovered near the No. 1 spot, cementing it with a victory at the PGA Tour event at Colonial Country Club in May of that year.

By August, it was gone.

"I think I probably relaxed when I got there and maybe I should have treated it a bit differently and I might have actually stayed there a bit longer,'' Scott said. "The sense of accomplishment was great, and I was obviously playing well. So I didn't really try and put more pressure on myself to play better or perform like a No. 1. I just wanted to play and enjoy that feeling, knowing that I was the No. 1 golfer in the world, and it only lasted about seven or eight weeks. Then Rory had an amazing run of golf and knocked me off the perch.''

Then again, Scott admits that is not really a part of his makeup. Less has always been more for him, hence the reduced schedule. He and his wife are expecting another child later this year, and with homes in the Bahamas, Switzerland and Australia, life has gotten more hectic off the course.

Still, Scott is not ready to slink away. He tied for 11th last week at Riviera and other than a missed cut late last year at the Japan Open, he has not been worse than 18th in any event going back to the PGA Championship last summer.

"It's pretty motivating to think I could work my way back up there and I feel I spent enough time doing enough thinking and planning that it's a realistic goal for me,'' Scott said.

Now comes the hard part: doing it.