An imperfect Masters Tournament had the perfect finish. Counter-punching with one clutch shot after another starting on the 18th hole in regulation, Adam Scott seized the green jacket from Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole with a 15-foot birdie putt.
Nine months after the claret jug slipped through his clutches with four consecutive bogeys on the last four holes, Scott fulfilled the promise he made that summer day on a rainy spring evening in Augusta.
“I didn’t finish the tournament well today,” a dazed Scott said at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in July. “But next time – I’m sure there will be a next time – I can do a better job of it.”
He couldn’t possibly have played better down the stretch than he did Sunday, with birdies on three of his last six holes, including a brilliant 25-footer on the 72nd hole that followed the Mark O’Meara path and made the Phil Mickelson curl into the cup. Scott screamed “C’mon, Aussie!” at his Kiwi caddie, Steve Williams, as though he’d finally broken the Australian jinx at the Masters that plagued his idol and countryman, Greg Norman.
But Cabrera wasn’t letting Scott off that easily. The 2009 Masters champion countered with his own magic, sticking a 7-iron to four feet to force the playoff.
“It was a split second I thought I’d won,” he said. “You should never count your chickens, but that was the putt we’ve seen so many guys make it to win, and that’s what I thought is it’s time for me to step up and see how much I want this.”
Two years ago, Scott had to live with sharing second place with countryman Jason Day as Charl Schwartzel made four consecutive birdies at the end to keep the Australian dreams at bay again. When Cabrera nearly chipped in on the first playoff hole, images of Larry Mize destroying Norman’s hopes flashed through Scott’s mind.
“My heart was about to stop as I was standing at the side of the green thinking, ‘Is this it, really?’” he said.
It wasn’t, and Scott slammed the door to any other openings after Cabrera’s putt on the second playoff hole hung high on the lip. He called in Williams – who won three Masters with Tiger Woods – for the assist as darkness closed in.
“I said, ‘Do you think it’s just more than a cup?’” Scott said. “He said, ‘It’s at least two cups; it’s going to break more than you think.’ ... He was my eyes on that putt. An unbelievable read.”
When the putt fell, Scott high-fived Williams, accepted a warm embrace from Cabrera and then flung his arms to the heavens as the roars washed over him.
Cabrera – who gave a sporting thumbs-up in the 10th fairway to Scott as they delivered strikes to the green – was genuinely pleased for the one who robbed him of a third major title, whispering congratulations into the ear of the man he called “a truthful winner.”
“That I was happy for him, that I know that he deserved it, and that he was going to eventually win it like he did right now,” Cabrera said of his comments. “It was just a matter of time.”
Similar words have been said often about Scott through the years and by Ernie Els last summer as the dashing 32-year-old kept knocking on the door at majors.
“It seems a long way away from a couple of years ago here and even last July when I was trying to win another major,” Scott said. “I felt my way today. There was some luck there somewhere. I don’t know how to digest it all at the moment, but it was incredible.”
Scott drew from three career lessons to fulfill his destiny. There was the influence of Norman – whose handling of repeated major heartbreaks and achievements proved the perfect model for Scott and fellow Australians Day and Marc Leishman to follow.
“It could have been any of us,” Scott said of the three Aussies in the top four. “But there was one guy who inspired a nation of golfers, and that’s Greg Norman. He’s been incredible to me and all the young golfers in Australia, and part of this definitely belongs to him.”
There was also Cabrera, who gave a pep talk to his Presidents Cup teammate in 2009 when Scott’s game was “in a bit of a rut to be fair, and I wasn’t enjoying it so much.”
“I was on a captain’s pick there and my form was struggling, but he pulled me aside and he said, ‘You’re a great, great player,’ ” Scott said. “Something I didn’t forget and really nice of him. ... I used that as a real motivator. And also a way to make myself believe that I’m a great player again.”
And there was his meltdown at Lytham, where his will to win a major was only reinforced instead of crushed by the loss to close friend Els.
“It did give me more belief that I could win a major,” Scott said. “It proved to me, in fact, that I could.”
“I played 14 really good ones last time, but I played maybe 20 good ones today,” he said.
For a nation Down Under starving for a green jacket, those 20 holes brought elation at last.
“When I heard the roar down on 10, a second later I heard about 30 million people in Australia and New Zealand all cheering, as well,” said Augusta National member Craig Heatley, a New Zealander who presented Scott at his news conference.
It was a perfect finish to Australia’s Masters woes.
“I’ve said it in here before, but we are a proud sporting country, and like to think we are the best at everything, like any proud sporting country,” Scott said. “But you know, golf is a big sport at home. It may not be the biggest sport, but it’s been a sport that’s been followed with a long list of great players, and this was one thing in golf that we had not been able to achieve.
“So it’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Aussie to win, just incredible.”