AUGUSTA, Ga. — Golf has been known to open gaping wounds in even its best practitioners, gashes no amount of sutures can close. Adam Scott bears the scars, long and jagged. Last summer, he led the British Open by four shots with four holes to play, and closed with four consecutive bogeys. He lost by one.
What, though, of the pain of an entire nation? There isn’t an Australian who approaches the lead at the Masters who isn’t asked about the heroes who came here, and failed, occasionally in excruciating fashion. Paging Greg Norman.
All of those emotions and characters entered the whirlpool that became the final hour of the final day of the 77th Masters. Scott’s failures, Australia’s failures, Norman’s shadow, they all stood over a putt on the 10th green, unforgettable drama in the immediate past, an untold future for the man holding that ridiculous broomstick of a putter in the immediate future.
“I wasn’t comfortable looking down there,” Scott said.
Get comfortable now. When Scott’s 12-foot putt settled squarely into the bottom of the cup, and all the indignities of the past – personal and patriotic – melted away. He thrust both hands to the sky, bent his back for emphasis and screamed through the raindrops. With that putt to beat Angel Cabrera in one of the best playoffs in the history of Augusta National Golf Club, Scott won the first major of his career and the first Masters for Australia – two accomplishments that had long been expected, but never realized.
“I’m a proud Australian,” Scott said, “and I hope this sits really well back at home.”
There’s no question of that. Norman, of course, was a hero to Australians of Scott’s generation, the reason so many took up the sport. But for all his talent and flair, he is defined by his tragedies here. In 1986, he bogeyed the 72nd hole, and lost by a shot to Jack Nicklaus. The following year, he was left at the side of the 11th green as Larry Mize chipped in for birdie, improbably ending their playoff. And in 1996, the worst: A six-shot lead on Sunday morning that somehow turned into a five-shot loss to Nick Faldo by Sunday night.
“He inspired a nation of golfers, anyone near to my age, older and younger,” Scott said. “He was the best player in the world. He was an icon in Australia. Everything about the way he handled himself was incredible to have as a role model.”
It took time to whittle the field down to the two characters who sorted it out.
Brandt Snedeker was on the cusp of salvaging a gutsy par at the 10th, one that would have pulled him within a shot of the lead, and he missed a two-foot downhill putt. He three-putted 11, and never recovered en route to 75 and a tie for sixth.
Tiger Woods, he of the two-stroke penalty and nagging controversy from Friday’s second round, didn’t have such a punch-in-the-gut moment, but instead died in dribs and drabs. He fell out of contention with two bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the front side, and couldn’t claw back to truly apply pressure on the back. He finished four back, tied for fourth.
So it was left to Cabrera and Scott, each of whom had moments when it appeared he would gift-wrap it for others – Cabrera, when he somehow put his approach at the 13th into Rae’s Creek, even though he was holding a one-shot lead, and Scott when he slid by an eminently makeable birdie putt at the 16th, a stroke that seemed destined to add to his scars.
But by the time they were done, there were no goats. Scott, playing in the penultimate group, came to the 18th green tied with Cabrera, a group behind, at 8 under. He faced a putt of just outside 20 feet, the putt any competitor here knows has won so many previous Masters.
“It’s time for me to step up and see how much I want this,” Scott said he thought to himself, and the guttural scream he unleashed when it fell in the hole showed just how much. He led by one.
Cabrera, in the fairway right then, saw the putt, heard the roar, watched the celebration. And he responded. His approach checked up all of 2½ feet from the pin. It was on.
Only beautiful golf remained. On the first playoff hole, the 18th again, both players fell short of the green. Both hit superlative chips. Both made par, and turned to the 10th.
“Going down the 10th fairway, it was almost deafening,” Scott said. And when Scott followed Cabrera’s exceptional approach shot with his own splendid response, Cabrera turned to Scott and gave him a thumbs-up. Scott responded in kind, respect – and even fun – somehow surfacing in the tension.
From there, only the putts remained.