AUGUSTA, Ga. — Nine months ago, Adam Scott led the British Open by four shots with four holes to go. That’s how close he was to winning his first major. Instead, he made like Ed Sneed at the 1979 Masters. Sneed led by three with three left but never got one of those green jackets. Neither did Scott get his claret jug. Instead he became one of those train-wreck tragedies that dot golf’s lore, closing with four straight bogeys to finish one behind Ernie Els.
The fact that it happens is one thing. How you deal with the inherent demons can be quite another. They’ve been known to swallow careers.
A decade or so ago, Scott was one of the game’s next big things. It seems like there’s never any shortage of those. Many become trivia questions. There were probably times when Scott could have maybe gone either way.
Not anymore. Those days are history. He has changed his life completely, and for keeps. All it took was one 12-foot birdie putt through the rain and looming darkness late Sunday afternoon on the par-4 10th, which finally took out 2009 champion Angel Cabrera on the second hole of their sudden-death playoff. Well, actually it was two putts. Scott earlier had made an 18-footer on the final hole of regulation, which as it turned out he would need just to keep playing when Cabrera — playing in the last twosome right behind Scott — stuffed it in close and got his own 3.
Did we mention that no Australian had ever won a green jacket?
Two years ago, after he tied for second with countryman Jason Day (who Sunday led with three holes remaining before bogeys at 16 and 17 left him two back in third) when Charl Schwartzel closed with four birds, Scott said his “heart” wanted to win this major, that he would “love” to be the first Aussie to do it.
“I just have to putt a little better,” he said at the time.
He’s the fourth guy in the last six majors to win using a long putter, which the governing bodies are about to put on the endangered-species list.
But in a Masters that was very much threatening to be remembered more for the controversial two-stroke penalty that Tiger Woods received following Friday’s second round, there will be no asterisk.
Particularly with the mates down under.
“I was trying not to think about that today,” said Scott, who closed with his second straight 3-under-par 69, and third of the tournament, to tie Cabrera (70) at 279, after opening with his only bogey of the round. “We’re a proud sporting nation. We like to think we’re the best at anything. There’s been a long list of great players that could have achieved this. It’s amazing that it was my destiny …
“It was time for me to step up. It was a huge moment.”
Eight Aussies had been runner-up here, starting in 1950 with Jim Ferrier, who shot a final-round 75 to lose by two to Jimmy Demarat. Obviously the one who’s remembered most is Greg Norman, who was second in 1986 (one behind Jack Nicklaus), 1987 (when Larry Mize beat him in a playoff by holing the chip shot of all time) and 1996 (when he blew a six-shot third-round lead with a 78 to lose by five to Nick Faldo). Now those close calls have been mostly wiped away, at least back home.
“Greg’s inspired a nation of golfers near to my age,” said the 32-year-old Scott, who shared an emotional hug with his father, his coached until he was 19. “He’s an icon, my hero. Most of us felt he could have slipped one (green jacket) on, for sure. He’s given me so much belief in myself. I drew on that a lot today. He’s been a great role model.”
As was his dad, who counts this as one of the few events he comes to.
“He did an incredible job of letting me be who I am,” Scott said. “He told me, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ It was nice that I was kind of able to reward him today.”
After trailing by three at the turn, Scott played the back nine in 3-under. He got a break on the par-5 13th when his second shot came up a bit short but didn’t, as often happens, roll back down the slope into the wet stuff. He then got up and down for birdie. He also had a two-putt birdie at the par-5 15th. He came to 18 tied with Cabrera. Three swings later, he was ahead. But Cabrera, who like Scott barely missed a birdie putt at 17, did likewise and it was off to extra holes.
They started on 18. Both rolled their approaches back off the green into the fringe. Cabrera’s chip nearly went in. On 10, the second playoff hole, so did Cabrera’s birdie putt. So it was up to Scott. It was getting to the point where they might not have been able to play any more holes due to darkness. And who really wanted to come back on Monday? Scott asked caddie Steve Williams, who used to carry Tiger’s bag, for the read. Williams told him it broke some two cups right-to-left. Scott did the rest, and the only thing left to do was exchange a serious high-five.
“My heart was about to stop,” is how Scott described Cabrera’s near-miss at 18. “I was thinking, ‘Is this it, really?’ “
Woods tied another Aussie, co-first-round leader Marc Leishman, for fourth with a 70 for 283. If his ball hadn’t hit the flagstick and went into the water at 15 on Friday, who knows? But it did, and the subsequent 8 (with the added penalty some 12 hours later) turned it into a possible four-stroke swing. Which of course could have made a difference. Anyway, he figures to again be the favorite in two months when the U.S. Open returns to Merion for the first time since Tiger was in kindergarten. It will mark the fifth anniversary of the last of his 14 major wins.
The four-time winner hasn’t won this one since 2005.
Cabrera, who at 43 was trying to supplant Ben Crenshaw as the second-oldest winner here behind Nicklaus, had done next to nothing the last decade except win the 2007 U.S. Open and that green jacket. But this is the third time in the last five years that he’s played in the last group. He came here ranked 269th in the world, 23 spots behind John Daly, whose presence this week was limited to his merchandise trailer parked right down Washington Road next to the Hooters. Yet Cabrera is also the only active player besides Tiger to have won the U.S. Open and Masters.
For a while, it looked like it was Cabrera’s tournament. Then, probably Day’s. In the end the stage belonged to another, someone who hasn’t finished worse than 15th in the last five majors.
“That’s how golf is,” Cabrera, who walked off arm-in-arm with his onetime President’s Cup teammate, said through an interpreter. “I would have been happy if I’d won, but I’m happy for him.”
Cabrera knows. He’s the only Argentine to ever win a major.
“I remember him pulling me aside and telling me I was a great, great player,” Scott said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Now, he finally has something else.
“I don’t know how that happened, it seems,” he said. “It’s like a long way away from two years ago, or even last July. It’s hard to exactly put it all together in my mind at the moment. It’s incredible to be in this position.
“Everything fell my way in the end. You never know … The list is so long, of everyone that’s helped me. I’m a proud Australian. I hope this sits really well back home. I guess when I get back I’ll find out.”