April 15, 2013

Faraway Australia finally owns a piece of Augusta

NO ONE FROM Mozambique has won a Masters. Neither has a North Korean (although many of their citizens probably have been told they’ve won them all). France? Nope.

NO ONE FROM Mozambique has won a Masters. Neither has a North Korean (although many of their citizens probably have been told they’ve won them all). France? Nope.

China, Japan, Russia and Italy are a combined 0-for-Augusta. Each has a population larger than Australia — twice as large, in some cases — but we give them all a free pass.

Australia? The Aussies we jumped on with both feet.

Until Sunday. Adam Scott, a 32-year-old Adelaide native, became the first Australian to win a green jacket and break Augusta National’s spell on the golfing hotbed when he rolled in a 10-foot putt to beat Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole before darkness overtook the Masters.

Until Sunday, golf’s most prestigious championship had toyed with the Australians. Four Aussies had finished second here, including Greg Norman, who did it three times. Norman famously fell apart in 1996, cementing Augusta National’s reputation as the course the country couldn’t tame.

A story that ran in the Sunday edition of The Australian began like this: “This time, Australia is throwing numbers at the Masters: three young warriors this morning will go forth into the cauldron that proved too much for a Great White Shark.”

Scott, Jason Day and Marc Leishman began the final round within three shots of the lead, and on a day when the weather was about as uncomfortable as the members here allow Augusta to get during the second week of April, the Australians were followed by groups of fans whose admirable passion almost makes up for an overconfident fashion sense. The country’s flag was emblazoned across all manner of garments in the gallery.

Only when the curse was broken did the Australian partisans show how much it meant to many of them. Moments after Scott rolled in a 20-foot put on the 72nd hole of the tournament to take a one-shot lead and seemingly sew up the island continent’s first green jacket during regulation play, a fan in a green and yellow hat emblazoned “AUSTRALIA” across its width was too excited to stop and talk.

“I’ve got the find the other blokes,” he said before darting into the soaked maze of the crowd.

As Scott’s putt rolled home, an Australian writer in the press room leapt from his seat and high-fived a countryman four seats down and said, “About (something a really excited Australian would say) time.” The reaction was repeated when Scott finally dispatched the 43-year-old Cabrera.

Leishman stayed in contention most of the day but a bogey on No. 15 left the tournament to be settled between Scott, Day and Cabrera. Even with 2-to-1 odds, it’s doubtful many Australian fans felt good about their chances.

Scott and Day, who played in the next-to-last group here on Sunday two years ago, were once again locked up for the late lead at 6:15 p.m. as both sat 8-under with Day through No. 16 and Scott through No. 15. Day, 25, blinked first, bogeying No. 17 to fall to 7-under, which left him alone in third place.

“It’s unfortunate, but very happy with how things are going right now with Adam, and I’m hoping that he pulls through and he can be the first player, if it wasn’t me,” Day said moments after walking off the course.

Scott started the day 6-under par and finished 9-under, birdieing Nos. 13, 15 and 18 to keep pace with Cabrera.

The green jacket was the last golf major not in Australia’s trophy case. Augusta National member Craig Heatley, a New Zealand native, introduced Scott before his victorious news conference.

“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, I can’t even describe the pleasure that it gives me to welcome and congratulate you, Adam, on an awesome performance,” Heatley said.

“I’m a proud Australian and I hope this sits really well back at home … and even in New Zealand,” Scott said. “We are a proud sporting country and like to think we are the best at everything like any proud sporting country. Golf is a big sport at home. It’s a sport that has been followed with a long list of great players, and this was one thing that we hadn’t won. It’s amazing that it was my destiny to be the first Aussie to win. Just incredible.”

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