GOLF: Scott becomes first Aussie to win Masters
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Adam Scott strolled into the room, looking quite dapper in green.
He let out a deep sigh and struggled to contain his emotions — the thoughts of Greg Norman, the folks Down Under, the dad he hugged so tight alongside the 10th green.
It sure felt a lot different than the last time Scott was summoned to the media room at the end of a major championship.
That was Lytham, where he had to answer for throwing away a seemingly sure victory in the British Open with bogeys on the last four holes.
This was Augusta, where he reveled in the biggest win of his career Sunday evening.
Less than eight months apart, everything changed.
Now, he’s Adam Scott, major champion.
“What an incredible day,” he said. “Everything fell my way in the end. You just never know.”
Using one of those big putters, Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters, beating Angel Cabrera on the second hole of a stirring playoff played in a steady rain and dwindling light, finally settling down in the hollow that is the 10th green, amid the towering Georgia pines.
Cabrera’s 15-foot putt rolled up right next to the hole and stopped. When Scott’s 12-footer dropped in the cup, he pumped his arms furiously and screamed toward the gray, darkening sky — quite a celebration for a guy who’s always been accused of being a little too laid-back.
No one would’ve said that on this day.
“I was pumped,” he said.
For Scott, this victory was sweet on so many levels.
Certainly, there was a measure of payback for what happened last July at the British Open, where he played beautifully for three days and 14 holes and seemed to have a stranglehold on the claret jug. Then he bogeyed the 15th hole. And the 16th. And the 17th. And, stunningly, the 18th, surrendering the title to Ernie Els.
Scott handled the staggering defeat with amazing grace, vowing to somehow “look back and take the positives from it.” But no one knew if he might go the way of Ed Sneed or Jean Van de Velde, golfers who threw away majors and never came close to winning another.
For Scott, there are no such worries.
Lytham is redeemed.
“Golf gives,” Cabrera said, “and golf takes.”
No one knows that more than Norman, a runner-up three times at Augusta National, a third-place finisher three other times, but never a winner. This one was for him, too.
“He inspired a nation of golfers,” Scott said. “Part of this is for him because he’s given me so much time and inspiration and belief. I drew on that a lot.”
In a grander scheme, this victory was for an entire continent. Australia has produced some greats of the game over the last half-century but never a Masters champion. Until now.
“We are a proud sporting nation and like to think we are the best at everything,” Scott said with a mischievous grin. “This is the one thing in golf that we had not been able to achieve. It’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Aussie to win.”
Norman was so nervous watching TV at his home in south Florida that he went to the gym when the final group made the turn. He returned for the last four holes and was texting with friends as his emotions shifted with every putt. Coming down the stretch, three Aussies — Scott, Jason Day and Marc Leishman — actually had a chance to win.
Scott brought it home.
“I’m over the moon,” Norman said. “Sitting there watching Adam, I had a tear in my eye. That’s what it was all about. It was Adam doing it for himself, and for the country.”
For Cabrera, a burly, 43-year-old from Argentina, the majors have been a big giver. His last victory on the PGA or European tours before Sunday? The 2009 Masters. Before that? The 2007 U.S. Open.
In other words, Cabrera doesn’t win often, but when he does, it’s usually a pretty significant victory.
He almost got another one, trying with Scott in regulation at 9-under 279.
“I had a lot of peace of mind and I was very confident,” said Cabrera, who closed with a 2-under 70. “I knew that it depended on me. I knew that (the other contenders) can make some birdies, but I still was thinking that it depended on me.”
Cabrera made the turn with a two-stroke lead but stumbled on the back nine, knocking his drive behind the pine trees at the 10th and then sending his ball into Rae’s Creek on the 13th, leading to bogeys at both. But a birdie at the 16th gave him a shot, and he struck what might’ve been the best — well, certainly the most clutch — shot of the day at the 72nd hole after Scott, playing just ahead in the penultimate group, rolled in a 20-footer for birdie and a one-stroke lead.
“For a split-second, I let myself think I could have won,” said Scott, who certainly celebrated like his 69 was good enough.
Not so fast.
Cabrera stuck a 7-iron from 163 yards to 3 feet, leaving a gimme of a putt to force the playoff. Scott was watching a television in the scoring area.
“I got to see Angel hit an incredible shot,” Scott said. “Then it was try to get myself ready to play some more holes.”
They went back to the 18th for the first playoff hole. After matching drives and approach shots, both rolling off the front of the green, Cabrera chipped over Scott’s ball and nearly put it in the cup. Scott pitched to 3 feet, both made their putts and the playoff moved on to No. 10.
Again, two more booming drives and two more nifty approaches, leaving them both with a good shot at birdie.
If Cabrera’s ball had turned one more time, they might’ve been returning to the course today to finish up.
When it didn’t, Scott was determined to end things before nightfall.
“Had to finish it,” he said.
Scott got a big assist on the winning putt from his caddie, who knows a thing or two about winning at Augusta. Steve Williams was on the bag for 13 of Tiger Woods’ 14 major titles, a close friend to the world’s top-ranked golfer before Woods’ personal life fell apart. Williams was among those cut loose in the aftermath, a bitter split that made this victory about as satisfying to him as it was Scott.
Especially after Scott turned to Williams to get a read on the putt.
“I could hardly see the green in the darkness,” Scott said. “He was my eyes on that putt.”
Scott told Williams he thought the right-to-left break would be about the width of a cup. Williams set him straight.
“It’s at least two cups,” the caddie said. “It’s going to break more than you think.”
Scott took the advice.
A short time later, he was trying on a green jacket.
“The winning putt was the highlight putt of my career,” Williams said, “because he asked me to read it.”
For his former boss, there was more major misery. Woods was at the center of a firestorm for an improper drop during the second round, which led to a two-stroke penalty and complaints that Woods had actually gotten off easy, because he could’ve been disqualified for signing an improper scorecard.
Four strokes behind going to the final round, Woods struggled with the speed of the greens on the first eight holes — they weren’t nearly as quick because of the rain — and was too far behind by the time he got something going. He finished with a 70 and tied for fourth, four shots out of the playoff.
“I played well,” he said. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t make enough putts.”
Day seized the lead with three straight birdies through the middle of the back side, but he couldn’t hold on. A curious decision to putt through 12 feet of fringe behind the 16th green led to a bogey, and he surrendered another stroke after failing to get up-and-down from the bunker at the 17th. He finished with a 70 and was two shots back at 281.
“I think the pressure got to me little bit,” Day said.
Scott didn’t let it get to him, even when he couldn’t get any putts to fall early in the round with that big stick of his, which have become all the rage in the majors. He finally caught a break at the 13th, when his approach rolled back off the green, but stopped short of the creek. He wound up making a birdie, which gave him the spark he needed.
“I had no momentum on the day at that point,” Scott said. “That was a great break. And everyone who wins gets those kind of breaks.”
After Lytham, he sure had it coming.