AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The first 76 Masters gave us the storyline that no Australian had ever won even a green jacket. The 77th Masters was about three Aussies trying to win it at the same time, and then two, and finally only one, plus a battle-tested Argentine who had fallen to 269th in the world but wouldn’t go away.
With darkness creeping over Augusta National, Australian Adam Scott emerged from the pack with a 12-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a playoff to dispatch Argentina's Angel Cabrera, a two-time major winner.
“What an incredible day,” said Scott, whose game hit bottom just four years ago, when his countryman and mentor Greg Norman threw him a lifeline by making him a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup at San Francisco’s Harding Park. “Everything fell my way in the end, I guess, and you just never know.”
Scott got a break late Sunday when his second shot hung up on the bank above Rae’s Creek on 13, allowing him to chip up close and make his birdie putt.
And he got help from caddie Steve Williams on the winning putt on 10.
“I could hardly see the green in the darkness,” Scott said. “I was struggling to read it, so I gave Steve the call-over. 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.’”
Fellow Australian Jason Day, 25, birdied three straight holes on the back nine but bogeyed 16 and 17 to finish third. The third Aussie with a shot at the green jacket, Marc Leishman, shot 72 to tie for fourth place with Tiger Woods (70), who never broke 70 in his bid for a fifth green jacket and 15th major title.
“I thought I really played well,” Woods said. “I missed a few putts, but also I made my share as well. I made a bunch of 10- to 15-footers. So overall it was a pretty good week.”
Scott’s victory was so freighted that club member Craig Heatley, the New Zealand-born businessman who moderated the winner’s press conference, got choked up after saying he could hear the roar from “30 million people in Australia and New Zealand.” He was barely able to get out the words and laughed as he added, turning to Scott, “I can’t talk much, can you?”
An Australian had finished second at Augusta eight times, including Norman’s three runner-up finishes. His final round blow-up and runner-up finish to Nick Faldo in 1996 was easily the most painful of the close calls. “Part of this is for [Norman] because I he’s given me so much time and inspiration and belief,” Scott said. “And I drew on that a lot today. I managed to stay in each shot.”
It was the ninth Tour victory and first major for Scott, 32, a prodigy whose putting has never quite caught up to the rest of his game and whose results never quite matched his talent. He erased the memory of having bogeyed the last four holes to lose the British Open last July -- his best previous shot at winning a major. “I played 14 really good ones last time,” he said, “but played 20 good ones today.”
Scott and the 43-year-old Cabrera traded birdies on the 18th hole to force a playoff at 9 under. Scott’s came first, a roughly 20-foot, right-to-left putt that just barely curled in the low side as he thrust his fists and screamed, “C’mon, Aussie!”
Cabrera matched him 10 minutes later when he stiffed his approach shot to within two feet of the pin, setting up an easy tap-in to force extra holes.
They went back to the par-4 18th, where both men blistered drives that found the fairway but proceeded to leave their approach shots short of the green. Cabrera nearly chipped in, dashing the hopes of a nation one more time. “I thought, ‘Is this it? Really?’” Scott said. “These things can just as easily go in as go out.”
Both players hit the fairway on 10, the next playoff hole, and each gave himself a good look at birdie as the light rapidly faded over Augusta. Cabrera missed, Scott made, and it was over. An Australian had finally done it.
“I was happy for him,” Cabrera said. “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.”
Cabrera had dropped to 269th in the world and recently shot 80-77 to miss the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before finishing T16 in Houston in his last start before the Masters. El Pato was no one's idea of a pre-tournament favorite, but there he was, his kid, Angel, Jr., on the bag, swinging from the heels at the tournament he had won in a playoff over Kenny Perry just four years earlier.
When Cabrera failed to birdie either of the back-nine par-5s he seemed to be on his way out, but he still had something left on the 90th birthday of Roberto de Vicenzo, the father of Argentinean golf who would have won here had he not signed an incorrect scorecard in 1968. Cabrera rolled in a birdie at the par-3 16th hole to put himself right back into the lead along with Scott at 8 under par.
Brandt Snedeker, who had shared the 54-hole lead with Cabrera and had won more than all but one of the main players in the last year, kept himself in the mix with an even-par 36 on the front nine but never found any rhythm on the back. He signed for a final-round 75 and tied for sixth place, five back.
Bernhard Langer, 55, made three straight birdies to start his round and got to within two of the lead, but began to show his age again with bogeys at No. 6 and No. 7 and shot 76 to finish 2 over. At least he didn’t make a 10 on the par-3 12th hole, a fate that befell both Kevin Na and defending champion Bubba Watson.
“There’s a banana skin on every hole,” said the quirky Englishman David Lynn, who was in contention for two rounds (68-73) before a third-round 80.
Lynn’s wipeout was almost as spectacular as Dustin Johnson’s the day before when, having played his way all the way to the top of the leaderboard, he went six over par for his last five holes, never to be heard from again.
Many of the game’s elite were largely missing in action. Rory McIlroy, who had hung around within striking distance over the first 36 holes (72-70) fell apart with a third-round 79, making his final-round 69 mostly meaningless.
Phil Mickelson was way off, failing to break par after the first day and finishing tied for 54th place. “I just had an off year,” Mickelson said.
Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen shot the second best round of the day Sunday, his second straight 68 to tie for sixth place with Snedeker. But it was Scott who stole the day. No longer will he have to answer to never having won a major. No longer will Australia pine for the one title it couldn’t seem to get its hands on.
“We are a proud sporting country,” Scott said, “and we like to think we are the best at everything, like any proud sporting country. Golf is a big sport at home. It may not be the biggest sport, but it’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. It’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Aussie to win -- just incredible.”