AUGUSTA, Ga. — When you’ve waited so long and come so close to joining golf’s major champions’ club, getting the opportunity to celebrate twice seems entirely appropriate.
Adam Scott won the 77th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club Sunday. Then he didn’t. Then he did, finally and officially. An entire continent likely wept at the scene, a perfect, symbolic connection to the raindrops that gently fell on Scott, facing skyward, eyes closed, arms raised, after his winning putt fell into the hole.
Australia finally has its Masters champion.
It came in thrilling fashion, capping a final hour that saw Scott and Angel Cabrera match each other with birdies on the final hole of regulation, then hitting nearly identical shots over two playoff holes, the eventual difference between the two as razor-thin as you’ll ever see. Scott ended it with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 10th green, the second extra hole. A minute sooner, Cabrera barely had missed a 15-foot birdie try of his own.
The show might have taken roughly 65 holes to get good, but once it did, the players who determined this Masters supplied fantastic theater.
None more dramatic than Scott, who overcame a late two-stroke deficit, then one of the best pressure shots in tournament history, to finally get across the line and become what most everyone assumed one day he’d be. No heartache this time, no more curse. An Australian is wearing a green jacket.
“What an incredible day. Everything fell my way in the end, I guess. You just never know,” Scott said. “It’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Aussie to win. A real honor.”
Australians had three chances at ending their Masters hurt, with Scott, Jason Day, and Marc Leishman starting the day in the top five, coat measurements on file. Leishman was a nonfactor, shooting a 72 and finishing tied for fourth, with Tiger Woods (70); Brandt Snedeker, the 54-hole co-leader with Cabrera, was tied for the early lead but struggled to a 75 and tied for sixth.
Day, who took the lead when he holed out for eagle on the par-5 second hole, led by two shots as he stood on the 16th tee. At the time, Scott was playing the par-5 15th, in need of something magical, or a little help. He got both.
A two-putt birdie on No. 15 pushed Scott to 8 under, one behind Day, who had missed the 16th green in the group ahead. When he failed to save par, the countrymen were tied. Cabrera, playing in the final group (one behind Scott) joined the pair at 8 under when he drained a 16-footer for birdie at the 16th.
Day’s fate was ultimately sealed when he bunkered his approach to the 17th and again couldn’t save par, leaving Scott and Cabrera tied. When Day’s birdie attempt to tie at the 18th slid harmlessly by, Scott — who was watching from the 18th fairway — and Cabrera (on the tee) had the stage to themselves.
Scott struck first, rolling in a 20-foot birdie on No. 18 and reacting as if he’d won. Understandable, perhaps, considering Scott’s close calls in majors. He tied for second at the Masters two years ago, and had a four-shot lead at last year’s British Open with four holes to play before giving the tournament away.
Those experiences made Sunday night worth the wait.
“It did give me more belief that I could win a major,” Scott said. “It proved to me, in fact, that I could.”
Cabrera made Scott work for it. With Scott signing his scorecard, Cabrera was 163 yards away in the fairway, 7-iron in hand. The situation was simple, the task anything but: birdie to force a playoff, par and Scott wins.
With his son, Angel Cabrera Jr., on the bag, the 43-year-old from Argentina stuffed his approach to 3 feet, an improbable pressure stroke that brought disbelieving roars from those ringing the 18th green, and had Australians speechless. The ensuing birdie created a sudden-death playoff, the ninth in Masters history, and second in two years.
Cabrera almost ended it on the first playoff hole, which was the 18th. Both players drove into the fairway, and both saw their approach shots finish short of the green. Playing first, Cabrera’s chip for birdie burned the edge of the hole. Scott needed to hole a 4-footer to extend the playoff, which he did, confidently.
Similar drives and approach shots on No. 10 in the playoff: 15 feet left for Cabrera, 12 for Scott. Again, Cabrera’s look at birdie grazed the edge of the cup. Given a chance to sink a putt and win his first major championship, Scott was dead-center.
“That’s golf,” said Cabrera, who won his own Masters, in 2009, with a playoff win on the 10th hole. “Golf gives and takes. Sometimes you make those putts, sometimes you just miss them.”
Cabrera had nothing to be ashamed of, although he might regret the second shot to the par-5 13th hole that found the water and led to a bogey when he held a one-shot lead. Combined with a birdie from Day on No. 14, it created a two-shot swing, and put Day in front by one. That became two when Day two-putted for birdie on No. 15.
But Scott had plenty left in the tank, similar to the way he finished the final round two years ago, when he took the lead with a birdie on No. 16. It took four birdies on the final four holes by Charl Schwartzel to keep Scott — and Day, who also tied for second — out of the green jacket that day.
This day was different. Years after Greg Norman came up short in the Masters — some of those losses by his own doing, others (Jack Nicklaus, Larry Mize) at the hands of fate — a standout from the generation of golfers inspired by him delivered a different ending for the folks back home. Scott credited Norman after his victory, but also his father, Phil, who watched from the 10th green as his son became Masters champion.
“He was at the [British] Open last year and he was as positive as anyone,” Scott said, recalling perhaps his cruelest professional moment. “I’m sure he was gutted inside, but nice that I was able to kind of reward him with this one today while he was here.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com.