AUGUSTA, GA. — Golf has long been known to open gaping wounds in even its best practitioners, gashes no 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 Sunday evening 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. 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, drew up the golfing blueprint for 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.
Norman “inspired a nation of golfers, anyone near to my age, older and younger,” Scott said. “He was the best player in the world and an icon in Australia.”
Now, it might be Scott’s turn. “I guess when I get home,” he said, “I’ll find out.”
It took time to whittle the field down to the two characters who sorted it out, and so many players closed their trunks and drove away from Augusta National, no doubt replaying crucial moments in their minds. 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 tied for fourth, four back.
“We could do that ‘what if’ in every tournament we lose,” Woods said. “. . . That’s just part of the process, and I’ll go back to it.”
Their pain seemed minimal to what Jason Day must have felt, because at 6 p.m., it was Day who stood on the 16th tee, holding a two-shot lead in the final round of the Masters, the Australian most likely to break through. He had birdied 13, 14 and 15, and the par-3 16th should have served as an opportunity, not an omen.
But Day’s tee shot at 16 carried over the green. On Saturday, Day held the lead headed into the final two holes, and bogeyed them both. On Sunday, he made bogeys at 16 and 17, and at a more critical moment, his lead evaporated.
“Obviously,” he said, “I think pressure got to me a little bit.”
At one point, it appeared to get to Cabrera, the 2009 champion here, because he inexplicably hit his approach at the 13th from pine straw to water, leading to a bogey on a birdie hole. The pressure, in the past, had undeniably worn on Scott. Two years ago, he and Day tied for second here, when Charl Schwartzel blew past them both. That, and his pulverizing loss to Ernie Els last summer taught Scott he could — and should — be in this spot again, ready to embrace the elements, not cower from them.
“Everything I said after the Open is how I felt, and I meant it,” Scott said. “It did give me the belief that I could win a major. It proved to me, in fact, that I could.”
By the time he and Cabrera approached their final holes, there would be no giveaways, 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 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 7-iron from 163 yards checked up all of 21 / 2 feet from the pin. He made his birdie. It was on.
“The only one thing in my head,” Cabrera said, “was about winning.”
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 surfaced through the tension.
From there, only the putts remained. Cabrera’s was uphill, slightly right to left. “Those things can just as easily go in as stay out,” Scott said. It didn’t, all but hanging on the edge.
“That’s golf,” Cabrera said.
For once, Scott’s was the putt that fell. For once, he had his moment — a celebration on the green, a hug with caddie Steve Williams, an embrace with his father, and the salves that soothed the wounds of his home country, all the way around the world.