For Adam Scott and Australian golf fans, it was a case of 9th time lucky at the 10th hole at Augusta in the 10th ever playoff at The Masters. On eight previous occasions, Australian golfers have been runners-up at the first major of the year. Most infamously, in 1996, Greg Norman somehow turned a six-shot lead on the final day into a defeat to Englishman Nick Faldo. It was the kind of choke which might have made you wonder whether there was a Curse of the Bambino lurking when it came to Aussies and The Masters.
And the 32-year-old Scott could have had cause to curse his own ability in the clutch. Not only was he one of those Australians who had come second at The Masters – he tied with fellow countryman Jason Day in 2011 – but at last year’s British Open, he bogeyed the last four holes to lose to South African Ernie Els. Yet less than a year later, Scott was slipping on the iconic Green Jacket from 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson. And it couldn’t have been more dramatic: Scott won it by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a playoff to defeat Argentina‘s Angel Cabrera.
Truth be told, the final day on Sunday probably won’t go down as one of the best among the 77 editions of the major to date. The unseasonal rain didn’t only dampen the course, making it harder to judge putts, but the enthusiasm of the spectators who could be seen using their hands to hold umbrellas rather than applaud the golfers.
“Moving Day” on Saturday – so called because it’s often the round when the likeliest winners of a major put themselves in position to triumph come Sunday – had also been a damp squib of sorts, with not too much in the way of significant action. It seemed as if a winner could come from one of the three Australians – Scott, Day or first round co-leader Marc Leishman – the 2009 Masters winner Cabrera, or the American Brandt Snedeker. Tiger Woods had given himself a lot to do by incurring a two-shot penalty for an illegal drop. Moving Day? More like Moving the Ball Day for Woods, who would end up tied for fourth.
As it turned out, it was Scott’s steady play which won the day. While he never got a hot streak going, and actually dropped a shot at the first on Sunday, he soon made it back and remained at 6-under until he birdied the par 5 13th. And the 13th turned out to be lucky for Scott and unlucky for Cabrera, who was leading the three Aussies by two shots going into 13. But whereas the Argentine dropped a shot, Scott got a crucial break when his second shot stayed up on the bank, which meant he didn’t get penalized by going into the water. On such fine margins can majors be won or lost.
But then, Jason Day made his move to win, with birdies at 13, 14, and 15 putting him in a strong position. But bogeys at 16 and 17 would do for him, and countryman Leishman ended the day where he began: on -5 and out of contention.
And so then there were two, with Scott and Cabrera making some magic at the 18th. Scott, who had moved to -7 by gaining a shot at the par 5 15th, struck the first blow, playing in the group just ahead of Cabrera. From the best part of 25 feet, Scott sunk a stunning right-to-left putt that just about curled in. Understandably, he pumped his fists, screaming “C’mon, Aussie, C’mon!” Cabrera knew what he needed to do: match Scott’s birdie. And in possibly one of the greatest approach shots in the history of the 18th at Augusta, Cabrera landed his ball two feet from the hole, which he duly birdied to take the major to its 10th playoff, and second in a row. Considering that the man currently ranked 269th in the world had never made a birdie on the final hole of the final day at Augusta, Cabrera’s timing, to say nothing of his sudden return to form, was exquisite.
The two players matched pars on the first sudden death playoff hole, which was back on the 18th. But the Argentine nearly chipped in, which would have won it. “I thought, ‘Is this it? Really?’” said Scott. “These things can just as easily go in as go out.”
And so to the 10th. They both had tough but makeable putts after solid approach play. Cabrera’s effort didn’t do quite enough but Scott made no mistake, and celebrated with his caddie, Steve Williams, who he credited with crucial assistance in the fading light. “This is the one thing in golf we hadn’t been able to achieve,” Scott remarked about Australia‘s lack of success at The Masters. “It’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Australian to win.” Cabrera was equally dignified in defeat, noting that “I was happy for him. I knew that he deserved it, and that he was going to eventually win it like he did right now. It was just a matter of time.” Speaking of time, Scott found some to dedicate his victory to Greg Norman, saying that the three-time runner-up had “inspired a nation,” and that “a phone call isn’t going to be enough; I’d like to share a beer with him.” Norman was in no doubt as to the impact of Scott’s victory. “Adam is a great player and I’m confident this victory will catapult him to win more majors,” he said in a statement. “It will not surprise me if he wins more major championships than any other Australian golfer in history.” But before Scott turns his attention to more majors, he’ll surely find time for that beer.