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April 15, 2013

Scott beats Cabrera in a playoff at Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Adam Scott finished the job this time, and put an end to more than a half-century of Australian misery at the Masters.

With the two biggest putts of his career, Scott holed a 20-footer for birdie on the 18th hole of regulation that put him into a playoff with Angel Cabrera, and then won his first major championship Sunday with a 12-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole.

“We like to think we’re the best at everything. Golf is a big sport at home, and this is the one thing in golf we hadn’t been able to achieve,” Scott said. “It’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Australian to win. It’s incredible.”

Scott leaned back and thrust his arms in the air after the putt dropped on the 10th hole, a celebration for all of Australia and personal redemption for himself.

It was only last summer when Scott threw away the British Open by making bogey on his last four holes to lose by one shot to Ernie Els. The 32-year-old handled that crushing defeat with dignity and pledged to finish stronger given another chance. “Next time — I’m sure there will be a next time — I can do a better job of it,” he said that day.

Scott was close to perfect, and he had to be with Cabrera delivering some brilliance of his own.

Moments after Scott made his clutch birdie on the 18th hole for a 3-under 69 to take a one-shot lead — “C’mon, Aussie!” he screamed — Cabrera answered with a 7-iron from 163 yards that plopped down 3 feet from the cup, one of the greatest shots under the circumstances. That gave him an easy birdie and a 2-under 70. They finished at 9-under 279.

They both chipped close for par on the 18th in the first playoff hole, and Cabrera’s 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th grazed the right side of the cup.

With his long putter anchored against his chest, Scott’s putt was true all the way.

Under darkening clouds — no sudden-death playoff at the Masters had ever gone more than two holes — Scott said he could barely read the putt. That’s when he called over caddie Steve Williams and asked him to take over. Williams was on the bag for 13 of Tiger Woods’ majors, and read the putt that helped Woods to the 1999 PGA Championship.

“I said, ‘Do you think it’s just more than a cup?’ He said, ‘It’s at least two cups. It’s going to break more than you think,”’ Scott said. “He was my eyes on that putt.”

“The winning putt might be the highlight putt of my career,” Williams said. “Because he asked me to read it.”

The Masters had been the only major that never had a champion use a long putter. Scott’s win means four of the last six major champions used a putter pressed against their belly or chest, a stroke that might be banned in 2016.

What mattered more to Scott was that the Masters had been the only major an Australian had never won. He was among dozens of golfers who routinely rose in the early hours of Monday morning for the telecast, only to watch a horror show. The leading character was Greg Norman, who had four good chances to win, none better than when he blew a six-shot lead on the last day to Nick Faldo in 1996.

There was also Jim Ferrier in 1952 and Bruce Crampton 20 years later. Scott and Jason Day tied for second just two years ago. Norman, though, was the face of Aussie failures at the Masters, and Scott paid him tribute in Butler Cabin before he slipped on that beautiful green jacket.

“Australia is a proud sporting nation, and this is one notch in the belt we never got,” Scott said. “It’s amazing that it came down to me today. But there’s one guy who inspired a nation of golfers, and that’s Greg Norman. He’s been incredible to me and all the great golfers. Part of this belongs to him.”

Reached at his home in south Florida, Norman told The Associated Press, “I’m over the moon. Sitting there watching Adam, I had a tear in my eye. That’s what it was all about. It was Adam doing it for himself, and for the country.”

Norman was so nervous watching TV that he went to the gym when the final group made the turn. He headed home for the last four holes — Day, Scott and Marc Leishman all had a chance to win — and was texting with friends as his emotions shifted with every putt.

“I can only imagine how everyone else felt when I was playing,” Norman said.

And when Cabrera stuff his shot into the 18th, Norman said he sent a text that said, “The golfing gods can’t be this cruel to Australia.”

Scott was just as gracious in victory as he was last summer at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He and Cabrera flashed a thumbs-up to each other after their shots into the 10th hole in the playoff, and they walked off the 10th green with their arms around each other when it was over.

“Such is golf,” Cabrera said. “Adam is a good winner.”

It was a riveting conclusion to a week filled with some awkward moments. There was the one-shot penalty called against 14-year-old Guan Tianlang that nearly kept the Chinese teen from becoming the youngest player to make the cut. There was the illegal drop by Woods, who was given a two-shot penalty over questions and confusion about why he was not disqualified for signing an incorrect card.

And at the end, there was shot-making at its finest.

Scott didn’t make a bogey after the first hole, and he really didn’t miss a shot the rest of the day on a rainy Sunday at Augusta. He just couldn’t get a putt to fall until it really mattered. Then, he made two of them.

Day closed with a 70, his second close call at the Masters in three years. This one hurt far more because he had a two-shot lead when he stepped to the 16th tee.

He ran off three bold birdies down the stretch — getting up-and-down from the back bunker on the 13th, a 10-foot putt on the 14th, and capitalizing on a break at No. 15 when his drive ricocheted out of the trees into the fairways, allowing him to reach the green in two.

His lead vanished just as quickly, however. Day chose to hit putter from behind the 16th green, came up 5 feet short and missed the par putt. He hit into a bunker on the 17th for another bogey.

“I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Day said.

The tournament unfolded behind him, and it turned out to be quite a show.

Scott hit the ball beautifully the entire day and watched one putt after another turn away from the hole. But he also received perhaps the biggest break of the tournament when his shot into the par-5 13th spun back off the green and was headed down the slope into the tributary of Rae’s Creek when it suddenly stopped, a blessing from a day spent in the rain. He got up-and-down for birdie, and he two-putted for birdie on the 15th.

Cabrera wasn’t so fortunate. Playing in the group behind, his approach hit the bank and tumbled down into the water, leading to a bogey that cost him the lead. Cabrera answered with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th, however, that gave him a share of the lead.

And then came a one-two punch of birdies. For the fans who endured a soggy final round, this made up for it.

Two players. Two clutch birdies. Two different celebrations.

Scott screamed at the top of his lungs, “C’mon, Aussie!” and clapped hands forcefully with caddie Steve Williams when his 20-foot birdie putt curled around the left side of the cup — just like Phil Mickelson’s winning putt in 2004 — and dropped in the back.

Scott was in the scoring room when he looked up and saw Cabrera chase after his approach, pumping his fist when his 7-iron plopped down 3 feet from the cup for a birdie. Cabrera affectionately hugged his son and caddie, Angel Jr., as they walked off the green toward the scoring room.

“It was a split second I thought I’d won,” Scott said. “That was the putt we’ve seen so many guys make to win, and what I thought is it’s time for me to step up and see how much I want this. To make a couple putts to win the Masters is just an amazing feeling.”

For Woods, it was another one that got away.

Not even that two-shot penalty on Friday — the product of a wedge that hit the flag and caromed back into the water — would have mattered. Woods figured he would need a round of 65 to win, and he made two bogeys before his first birdie. Even a mild charge on the back nine wasn’t going to help him, and he closed with a 70 to tie for fourth with Marc Leishman (72).

“I played well,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t make enough putts.”

He now has gone eight years without winning the Masters, and he has been stuck on 14 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods is 0-for-15 in the majors since then, a drought Jack Nicklaus never endured until he was 44.

Brandt Snedeker, tied with Cabrera for the lead going into the final round, closed with a 75 and finished five shots behind.

“Any time you have a chance to win the Masters and you don’t come through — my lifelong dream — you’re going to be upset, you’re going to cry,” Snedeker said. “But I’ll get through it.”

He could learn from Scott, who endured a collapse that might have scarred a lesser player for a lot longer than nine months.

 

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