By Tony Jimenez
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Curtis Strange was shocked by Adam Scott's meltdown at last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational but the double U.S. Open champion believes the Australian will bounce back at this week's Masters.
The world number two collapsed to a final-round 76 as he tossed away a seemingly unbeatable seven-stroke lead at the Bay Hill course in Florida to finish two shots behind tournament winner Matt Every of the United States.
Masters champion Scott also suffered a late slump at the Australian Open in December when he bogeyed the final hole to lose out to Rory McIlroy by one stroke after the Northern Irishman birdied the 18th.
"It's a surprise to me how he's had big leads in tournaments recently and not been able to hold on for victory," Strange told Reuters in an interview ahead of the opening major championship of the season that starts on Thursday.
"I was shocked about Bay Hill. I thought he would win easily but I still like his chances this week.
"I think the world of Adam Scott, I think the world of his golf game and even though his bad round at Bay Hill was not to his liking you can see he's playing well enough right now."
Strange, who won the U.S. Open in 1988 and 1989, said the 33-year-old Australian has proved enough times in the past that he has the temperament to respond to adversity.
"Two years ago Adam was four up with four to play at the British Open but lost out to Ernie Els," the American said. "Two majors later he won the Masters.
"That's pretty good stuff. It shows the strength of the man and a good intestinal fortitude.
"I look at him that way so when I think of some of the losses he's had this year I believe he'll be ok," said Strange, an ESPN golf analyst who will be part of the sport network's multi-platform coverage of the Masters.
"He'll be able to forget everything. We golfers have to have short memories because we lose a lot and don't win all that often."
Strange, who captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team that lost out to Sam Torrance's Europeans at The Belfry in 2002, said he also fancied the chances of McIlroy and Henrik Stenson at Augusta National this week.
"I think the number one favorite here is Rory," said the 59-year-old American. "He may be going in under the radar a little bit too.
"He hasn't won yet this season but he seems to be playing better and better. He's gaining confidence every day and is hungry and eager to do well."
Stenson produced a spectacular surge up the world rankings after a stunningly consistent 2013 campaign that ended with him scooping a unique double, topping the European money list and winning the U.S. Tour's lucrative FedExCup playoff series.
The world number three from Sweden has yet to hit those heights this year but Strange feels it is only a matter of time before he gets back in the winner's circle.
"Stenson is a strong player," he explained. "There's always going to be some downtime after the year he had last year.
"You just can't continue that sort of run of form every week but he has all the talent in the world and maybe he can kickstart his year at the Masters."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)