Australia’s Adam Scott won the 77th Masters last night in a playoff over Argentina’s Angel Cabrera. The victory gave Scott his first major championship win, but there was so much more to this win than an ugly green jacket and the right to serve up kangaroo meat at next year’s Champion’s Dinner. For Scott, this win helps him vanquish not only his own personal major championship demons, but also in the process, helps alleviate the pain felt by the tortured golf fans of his native Australia.
On a gloomy, rainy day on golf’s grandest stage, Scott stepped up to his ball in the middle of the 18th fairway at Augusta National, tied with Cabrera. While watching it, I couldn’t help but think of Greg Norman, Scott’s idol growing up and the poster boy for major championship defeat.
It was 27 years ago that Norman stood alone in that same 18th fairway at his favourite tournament, tied with his idol Jack Nicklaus, who was already in the clubhouse, awaiting the final result. Norman, who had yet to win a major championship to that point, approached his ball and took what he would later call “the worst swing of my life.”
His ball sailed so far right that the TV cameras couldn’t pick it up. It was in the gallery somewhere, to be sure, but the chances of Norman getting up-and-down and into a playoff with Nicklaus seemed highly unlikely. When Norman pitched on and missed his putt for par, Nicklaus had his 18th and final major championship. Don’t worry though, Norman will be back, was the prevailing thought.
Norman did indeed come back the following year, only to be thwarted by an improbable chip-in from Larry Mize in a playoff. Nine years later, Norman would be back at it again, carrying a six shot lead over Nick Faldo heading into Sunday’s final round. He would lose that one as well, firing a 6-over par 78 and losing to Faldo by an unbelievable five shots. Scott and fellow countryman Jason Day had also seen a close finish back in 2011, finishing as joint runner-ups to South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel. With 15 major championship victories to their names, but none at the Masters, to say that Australian golfers were snake-bitten at Augusta National seems like an understatement.
Scott knew all of this. He knew all about the prior collapses of Norman and other runner-up finishes. He knew that of all of the major championships, this is the one that not only he wanted most, but that his country wanted more than anything. He also didn’t have to look far back to find a collapse of his own that needed to be erased from memory.
Last year, Scott looked to have his first major championship sewn up at the 2012 Open Championship held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Holding a four-shot lead over Brandt Snedeker and Graeme McDowell, Scott only needed to play a steady round of golf to lift the Claret Jug. However, he had a rough start, and his 11-under par score was down to just 9-under heading to the back-nine. Scott would get one back at the 14th, but proceeded to bogey his last four holes to lose by one stroke to Ernie Els. It was the latest in a long line of major disappointments for Scott, who was expected to have several at that point in his career, and yet, was stuck on none.
On Sunday, when Scott approached his ball in the fairway, he got a yardage from caddie Stevie Williams and with that trademark perfect swing, took a solid lash at his Titleist. With the ball in the air, the eerie sight of Scott sticking his tongue out of the side of his mouth, akin to Norman in his prime, gave me chills. Where Norman’s ball found the gallery, Scott landed on the right side of the green, leaving him a relatively easy putt to seal the deal at 9-under par.
When he stepped up with his massive anchored putter and dropped the birdie putt, the roar at Augusta’s closing hole was deafening. Scott was jacked, as was Williams and fellow Aussie Marc Leishman, who Scott was playing with in the final round. Australian Ian Baker-Finch, who mentored Scott growing up and now works for CBS, was choked up in the booth, trying to fight back the tears when Jim Nantz threw to him in the 16th tower. This was it. This was going to be the breakthrough for Scott and the end of the torment that the Masters had given an entire nation. Except, it wasn’t.
Cabrera stood in the fairway, watching it all unfold. He knew what it’s like to win a green jacket, and he wasn’t going to go away that easy. He’s always been an aggressive player, and on cue, he delivered one of the best approaches to the 18th green on Sunday at the Masters that I’ve ever seen. Suddenly, there was another roar from the Augusta National patrons, a roar that meant we were going to see a playoff. Cabrera would tap in his birdie putt, and the two men would head back to the 18th tee to start the sudden death playoff. They both made par on the opener, and made the short walk to the 10th tee to begin the second playoff hole.
Historically, the 10th is the most difficult hole on the course, playing to an average of 4.32 strokes since the tournament started back in 1934. Once again, perfect tee shots came from both men as they walked up the suddenly very dark fairway. With only a little bit of time left before daylight ran out, a Monday finish seemed likely, but both players stayed aggressive with their approaches, getting to within twelve feet.
Cabrera was first to putt, and he hit a good one that just ran by the hole, inches away from ensuring that he would get at least one more hole to try and win his second green jacket. Scott had a chance now to end it once and for all. He got a read from Williams, who had seen that putt hundreds of times in previous Masters appearances as caddie for Norman and Tiger Woods, and readied to hit the most important putt of his life. With one smooth follow-through, Scott drained the putt and got what he had wanted for so long.
After the putt dropped, Cabrera gave Scott a big hug. Last year when he collapsed at Lytham, Els walked over and gave him a hug as well, doing his best to console a player and friend who had just given away his best chance to become a big part of golf history. The hug last night from Cabrera was different in tone, no doubt.
All of the talk about how he couldn’t win the big event was now irrelevant. He did win the big event, and in doing so, he did what his idol before him couldn’t do. He won on golf’s most hallowed grounds, and for that, Scott’s name and country will be forever etched in the fabric of the game’s illustrious history.
Bring on the kangaroo meat.