AUGUSTA, Ga. — Adam Scott barely had time to think about an Australian in a green jacket when a sudden roar from the 18th green and a quick look at the TV reminded him it’s never been easy. Not for him in the majors. And certainly not for the Aussies at Augusta National.
He thought for a second it was over when he made a 20-foot birdie putt, the kind that always wins the Masters. In the scoring room, one last cheer on a soggy Sunday caused Scott to look up at the television after Angel Cabrera produced a great shot of his own, a 7-iron to 3 feet for birdie to force a playoff.
“The golf gods can’t be this cruel to Australia,” Greg Norman, the symbol of heartache at Augusta, said in a text to friends who were watching nervously.
Scott knocked in a 12-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to win that green jacket, personal redemption for his own failure last summer in the British Open and an end to more than a half-century of Australian misery at the Masters.
Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!
“We like to think we’re the best at everything. Golf is a big sport at home, and this is the one thing in golf we hadn’t been able to achieve,” Scott said. “It’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Australian to win. It’s incredible.”
Halfway around the world on Monday morning, commuters cheered on buses going into Brisbane, the capital of Scott’s home state of Queensland. A speech by the prime minister was interrupted to give an update on the playoff.
The celebration was sweet, especially for the 32-year-old Scott.
It was only last summer when Scott threw away the British Open by making bogey on his last four holes to lose by one shot to Ernie Els. He handled that wrenching defeat with dignity and pledged to finish stronger if given another chance. “Next time — I’m sure there will be a next time — I can do a better job of it,” he said that day.
Scott was close to perfect, and he had to be with Cabrera delivering some brilliance of his own.
Moments after Scott made his clutch birdie on the 18th hole for a 3-under 69 to take a one-shot lead — “C’mon, Aussie!” he screamed — Cabrera answered with one of the greatest shots under the circumstances, setting up an easy birdie and a 2-under 70. They finished at 9-under 279.
They both chipped close for par on the 18th in the first playoff hole, and Cabrera’s 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th grazed the right side of the cup. Scott his 6-iron into about 12 feet, leaving him one putt away from a green jacket.
Under darkening clouds — no sudden-death playoff at the Masters had ever gone more than two holes — Scott said he could barely read the putt. That’s when he called over caddie Steve Williams and asked him to take over. Williams was on the bag for 13 of Tiger Woods’ majors, and read the putt that helped Woods to the 1999 PGA Championship.
“I said, ‘Do you think it’s just more than a cup?’ He said, ‘It’s at least two cups. It’s going to break more than you think,’ “ Scott said. “He was my eyes on that putt.”
“The winning putt might be the highlight putt of my career,” Williams said. “Because he asked me to read it.”
With that long putter anchored to his chest, the putt was pure. The Masters had been the only major that never had a champion use a long putter. Scott’s win means four of the last six major champions used a putter pressed against their belly or chest, a stroke that might be banned in 2016.
What mattered more to Scott was that the Masters had been the only major an Australian had never won. He was among dozens of golfers who routinely rose in the early hours of Monday morning for the telecast, only to watch a horror show. The leading character was Norman, who had four good chances to win, none better than when he blew a six-shot lead on the last day to Nick Faldo in 1996.
There was also Jim Ferrier in 1952 and Bruce Crampton 20 years later. Scott and Jason Day tied for second just two years ago. Norman, though, was the face of Aussie failures at the Masters, and Scott paid him tribute in Butler Cabin before he slipped on that beautiful green jacket.
“Australia is a proud sporting nation, and this is one notch in the belt we never got,” Scott said. “It’s amazing that it came down to me today. But there’s one guy who inspired a nation of golfers, and that’s Greg Norman. He’s been incredible to me and all the great golfers. Part of this belongs to him.”
Reached at his home in south Florida, Norman told The Associated Press, “I’m over the moon. 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.”
Norman was so nervous watching TV that he went to the gym when the final group made the turn. He headed home for the last four holes — Day, Scott and Marc Leishman all had a chance to win — and was texting with friends as his emotions shifted with every putt.
“I can only imagine how everyone else felt when I was playing,” Norman said.
Scott was just as gracious in victory as he was last summer at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He and Cabrera flashed a thumbs-up to each other after their shots into the 10th hole in the playoff, and they walked off the 10th green with their arms around each other when it was over.
“Such is golf,” Cabrera said. “Adam is a good winner.”
It was a riveting conclusion to a week filled with several awkward moments. There was the one-shot penalty called against 14-year-old Guan Tianlang that nearly kept the Chinese teen from becoming the youngest player to make the cut. There was the illegal drop by Woods, who was given a two-shot penalty over questions and confusion about why he was not disqualified for signing an incorrect card.
And at the end, there was shot-making at its finest.
Scott didn’t make a bogey after the first hole, and he really didn’t miss a shot the rest of the day. He just couldn’t get a putt to fall until it really mattered. Then, he made two of them.
Day closed with a 70, his second close call at the Masters in three years. This one hurt far more because he had a two-shot lead when he stepped to the 16th tee.
He ran off three bold birdies down the stretch — getting up-and-down from the back bunker on the 13th, a 10-foot putt on the 14th, and capitalizing on a break at No. 15 when his drive ricocheted out of the trees into the fairways, allowing him to reach the green in two.
His lead vanished just as quickly, however. Day chose to hit putter from behind the 16th green, came up 5 feet short and missed the par putt. He hit into a bunker on the 17th for another bogey.
“I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Day said.
The tournament unfolded behind him, and it turned out to be quite a show.
Scott hit the ball beautifully the entire day and watched one putt after another turn away from the hole. But he also received perhaps the biggest break of the tournament when his shot into the par-5 13th spun back off the green and was headed down the slope into the tributary of Rae’s Creek when it suddenly stopped, a blessing from a day spent in the rain. He got up-and-down for birdie, and he two-putted for birdie on the 15th.
Cabrera wasn’t so fortunate. Playing in the group behind, his approach hit the bank and tumbled down into the water, leading to a bogey that cost him the lead. Cabrera answered with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th, however, that gave him a share of the lead.
And then came a one-two punch of birdies. For the fans who endured a soggy final round, this made up for it.
Two players. Two clutch birdies. Two different celebrations.
Scott screamed at the top of his lungs and clapped hands forcefully with his caddie after his 20-foot birdie putt curled around the left side of the cup — just like Phil Mickelson’s winning putt in 2004 — and dropped in the back.
Cabrera, going after a third major championship, started walking when he hit his 7-iron from 163 yards and pumped his left fist when it landed and the gallery erupted. He affectionately hugged his son and caddie, Angel Jr., as they walked off the green toward the scoring room.
“It was a split second I thought I’d won,” Scott said. “That was the putt we’ve seen so many guys make to win, and what I thought is it’s time for me to step up and see how much I want this. To make a couple putts to win the Masters is just an amazing feeling.”
For Woods, it was another one that got away.
Not even that two-shot penalty on Friday — the product of a wedge that hit the flag and caromed back into the water — would have mattered. Woods figured he would need a round of 65 to win, and he made two bogeys before his first birdie. Even a mild charge on the back nine wasn’t going to help him, and he closed with a 70 to tie for fourth with Marc Leishman (72).
“I played well,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t make enough putts.”
He now has gone eight years without winning the Masters, and he has been stuck on 14 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods is 0-for-15 in the majors since then, a drought Jack Nicklaus never endured until he was 44.
Brandt Snedeker, tied with Cabrera for the lead going into the final round, closed with a 75 and finished five shots behind.
“Any time you have a chance to win the Masters and you don’t come through — my lifelong dream — you’re going to be upset, you’re going to cry,” Snedeker said. “But I’ll get through it.”
He could learn from Scott, who endured a collapse that might have scarred a lesser player for a lot longer than nine months.