April 5, 2014

The Masters: Scott escapes Norman’s shadow

A muted and fuzzy fist pump. In the afterglow of his first Masters championship, that’s what stood out to Adam Scott.

A muted and fuzzy fist pump.

In the afterglow of his first Masters championship, that’s what stood out to Adam Scott. As Scott, framed in a now-famous photograph by Sunday evening rain drops, is joyfully contorted after sinking the 20-foot birdie putt that sent him into a playoff he would eventually win, his countryman Marc Leishman stands out of focus in the background, not long after seeing his own chance at history sink into the water at No. 15, celebrating quietly for his fellow Australian.

“I’ve talked about it a lot, I guess, over the last year. I got sent the photo either Monday or Tuesday by another caddie who had my number. He sent a picture through, and just blew me away seeing that picture,” Scott said as he prepared to return to Augusta National Golf Club as the defending champion. “It’s an incredible reaction by another competitor. I mean, I think that just goes to show you how much we all wanted an Aussie to win, no matter who it was.”

Scott, 33, and Leishman, 30, grew up believing it would be Greg Norman, but the Shark only left the Masters with heartache. Instead, it would be 17 years after Norman’s most famous collapse, an 11-stroke swing that ended in a Nick Faldo win in 1996, before an Aussie would wear a green jacket.

Scott, who was 9-under after 72 holes, claimed it on the second playoff hole, sinking a 10-foot birdie putt to best Angel Cabrera. Scott’s thoughts always turn to Leishman when thinking back, though.

“For a guy who has standing in the middle of the 15th fairway with as good a chance to win as me; to stand there on the 18th green and his dreams of winning were kind of gone and someone else is, is an incredible gesture of sportsmanship,” Scott said. “I’ve talked to Marc about that, and obviously no more needs to be said about what kind of guy Marc Leishman is after seeing a photo like that.”

No more needs to be said either about how much the championship meant to the continent. Scott’s win is good and bad for countrymen and competitors such as Leishman and Jason Day, who will enter this year’s tournament, which starts Thursday, without the extra weight to carry but also without the possibility of receiving the hero’s welcome Scott was given when he returned to Australia.

“Every Aussie that’s there (this year) will appreciate not being asked whether it will be them this year,” Scott said.

No one else can be the first now, not after the man who was saddled with the expectations of being the “Next Greg Norman” stepped into his own with his first major in 49 tries.

“It’s only ever been a compliment that people may have been expecting me to achieve some of the things that Greg Norman did, and he was greatest player in the world for a long time and achieved a lot. So that’s only complimentary. But after winning the Masters, I might have taken on my own identity a little more rather than the guy who could be like Greg Norman.”

The Masters was Scott’s ninth PGA win, and he will enter this year’s event ranked No. 2 in the world, which makes him the top player in the field after No. 1 Tiger Woods’ announcement that he will skip this year’s event following back surgery.

Scott, who will be looking to become the fourth person to win back-to-back Masters (joining Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo), carried last year’s Masters momentum to top five finishes in the British Open and the PGA. He has set a spring schedule that will have him peaking this week, he said, and he is coming off a third-place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March.

“I’m keeping the big picture in mind, and my priorities are the Masters and the other three majors later this year,” he said. “It’s always a balancing act. The last couple years I’ve balanced it really well.”

That was proven last year when the normally buttoned-down Scott roared so emphatically in that moment in front of Leishman.

“You know, it’s probably slightly out of character, but maybe that was all the years of frustration and everything coming out,” he said. “You know, can’t help but smile when I see that.”

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