Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 15, 2013

Great Scott! Adam Wins For Australia

A NOTE TO READERS: This post was delayed because of the late finish at the Masters. The regular schedule will resume on Thursday.

The golfing gods can be cruel. Adam Scott learned that bitter lesson last July at Royal Lytham. Leading the Open Championship by four shots after 54 holes, Scott wobbled through much of the round but birdied the 14th to seemingly right the ship. Then his long putter failed him. Four straight bogeys followed, putt after putt sliding past the hole. As the last one did so on the 18th, making Ernie Els the Open winner, Scott’s knees buckled.

But sometimes, just sometimes, the golfing gods can also display a surprising amount of heart and a true sense of justice. They chose to show their gentler side early Sunday evening at Augusta National Golf Club; where in the midst of a steady rain Adam Scott sank not one but two crucial putts to become the first Australian to win the Masters.

It’s long been an oddity of the game that a country that has sent so many quality players to the PGA Tour has never produced a winner of the green jacket. Peter Thomson won the Open Championship five times, and Greg Norman won it twice. Ian Baker-Finch won his Open at Royal Birkdale. Steve Elkington defeated Colin Montgomery in a playoff at the 1995 PGA Championship. Eleven years later Geoff Ogilvy outlasted Montgomery, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk to win the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Any number of Aussies have won regular events on the Tour, from Appleby to Baddeley to Crampton, and on through the alphabet. But no matter his name, when it came time to play among the towering pines and green hills of Augusta, the Australian hero of the day always managed to lose his way.

It was a national failure made more painful by the number of close calls. Eight times an Australian finished second at the Masters, beginning with Jim Ferrier in 1950. Three of the most agonizing runner-up finishes belonged to Norman. Tied with Jack Nicklaus and in the middle of the 18th fairway in 1986, he sent his approach wide right into the sea of spectators, leading to a bogey. One year later Norman could only stand and watch as Larry Mize chipped in from well off the 11th green to claim a stunning victory in sudden death. Then in 1996 Norman led through the first three days and started the final round six shots clear of the field. One very long afternoon and 78 excruciating strokes later, he was a distant second to Nick Faldo. Two years ago Scott and then 23-year old Jason Day finished joint second, both passed at the end by South African Charl Schwartzel’s closing run of four straight birdies.

For much of this Sunday’s final round it looked like the Aussies would be denied again. American Brandt Snedeker and Argentina’s Angel Cabrera started the day tied at 7-under par, just ahead of a trio of golfers from Down Under. Scott was one back, and Day and 29-year old Marc Leishman were two behind. Snedeker birdied the 1st to claim sole possession of the lead, but then faltered with back-to-back bogeys on the 4th and 5th. But twice-major winner Cabrera, vying to become the second oldest Masters champion at age 43, appeared unflappable. He made the turn at 2-under for the day and 9-under for the tournament.

Meanwhile an opening burst by Day, who began the round birdie-eagle to move to 8-under, was offset by a pair of bogeys later on the front nine. Scott and Leishman both seemed stuck in neutral, with Scott running off nine consecutive pars from the 4th through the 12th holes. He was leading the field in accuracy, and in the end would hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation; but he couldn’t get a putt to fall.

This year though, the old adage about the Masters coming down to the back nine on Sunday proved especially true. Cabrera’s tee shot on the 10th found the trees, leading to his first bogey of the day. Three holes later his second to the par-5 13th wound up in Rae’s Creek, and when he failed to get up and down for par from the drop zone he was back to even par for his round. Meanwhile two groups ahead Day appeared to be seizing control of the tournament. His own second shot on the 13th had finished in the bunker behind the green. From there he hit a spectacular sand shot, the ball rolling down the slope to finish within two feet of the cup for a certain 4. That was the first of three consecutive birdies which took Day to 9-under, and with Cabrera’s bogey, a two-shot lead.

But just as quickly as he shot up the leader board, Day then moved in the opposite direction. His tee shot on the par-3 16th went long. As intermittent showers became a steady rain, he made the questionable decision to putt the ball across the wet ground rather than chip over it. Predictably the result was a stroke left well short of the hole. Meanwhile just behind him the long-hitting Scott had finally started his move by reaching both par-5s in two, setting up two-putt birdies on both the 13th and 15th. That moved him to 8-under, and when Day missed his attempt to save par moments later, the two Australians were tied.

Day fell out of that tie when a loose approach shot at the 17th led to another bogey, even as Cabrera rammed home a birdie putt on the 16th to join Scott at 8-under. So they came to the last, Scott playing just ahead of Cabrera. From the left rough Scott’s iron finished twenty-five feet right of the hole. It’s a putt that Masters viewers have seen made on Sunday over the years, from Mark O’Meara to Phil Mickelson. This year the name Adam Scott was added to that list, the ball catching the right edge of the cup and rolling halfway around it before disappearing. In his moment of elation Scott screamed “C’mon Aussie!” the refrain of the country’s popular cricket anthem. But back in the fairway, Cabrera still had a chance.

Moments later, even as Scott was in the scorer’s tent checking his card, the Argentinean made the most of that chance, launching a confident approach that finished less than three feet from the hole. The birdie sent the Masters to a playoff for the second consecutive year.

After both made par playing the 18th yet again, they moved to the adjacent 10th hole where both found the fairway with their drives. On the hardest hole on the golf course, Cabrera’s approach was outstanding, settling eighteen feet below the hole. But Scott’s was even better, finishing fifteen feet right of the flag. Cabrera’s birdie try curled around the upper edge of the cup. Scott called in caddy Stevie Williams to help him read his putt. Williams, who in his career has carried the bags of Norman, Raymond Floyd, and of course Tiger Woods, told Scott that the putt was faster and would break more than it appeared. With that advice ringing in his ears, Adam Scott turned his own agony at Royal Lytham and decades of Australian heartbreak at Augusta into so much old news as his birdie putt fell into the heart of the cup.

On a day when he seemingly couldn’t buy a putt, Adam Scott made the only two that mattered. In the wake of last July’s meltdown at the Open, I wrote “here’s hoping that the popular Scott gets another chance at a major soon, and this time rises to the occasion.” On Sunday at Augusta, carrying the long-denied hopes of a nation on his shoulders, he did and he did.  C’mon Aussie indeed!

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