Scott enables Australia’s golfing spiritual cleansing

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

AUGUSTA — It took a generation. It took some remarkable shots from a remarkable competitor, in the rain and under darkened skies, as if the sport’s gods had to conference about this for a while, and ask themselves, “Have they suffered enough?”

The same pressure of a Masters Sunday that crushed one iconic golfer and left a country doubled-over, elevated another competitor and cleansed his homeland. Bottoms up. What was down is now up. Australia, consider this your spiritual cleansing.

Adam Scott won the Masters Sunday. He did so with uncommon cool and courage, the kind that it takes to win an event like this, against a field like this, in circumstances like this. He won a two-hole sudden-death playoff over Angel Cabrera, who’s the world’s No. 269th ranked golfer but has a tendency to morph into a super hero when there’s a major (he has won two).

Scott carded his third 69 of the tournament Sunday. He birdied three holes on the back nine, a stretch of beautiful but haunted real estate that has a history of turning strong legs into overcooked linguini. He dropped in a 20-foot putt on No. 18, which was expected to be immediately followed by a fitting for a green jacket in Butler Cabin.

When Cabrera responded with drama of his own, Scott didn’t fold. On the second overtime hole at No. 10, after watching Cabrera hit a 15-foot birdie putt to the edge of the cup, Scott clinched his first major title by rolling in a 12-footer — mostly on feel and direction, not vision.

“I could hardly see the green because of the darkness,” Scott said. “Stevie was my eyes for that putt.”

That would be caddy Steve Williams, the former aide to Tiger Woods who’s experienced a few wins on this course. Scott celebrated with Williams, then hugged his father (also a golfer and his son’s former long-time coach). Later, he paid tribute to fellow Aussie Greg Norman, a close friend and mentor, who despite two British Open titles, world-wide adoration and millions in earnings, might be best known for his collapses at Augusta National.

“He inspired a nation of golfers,” Scott said. “He was the best player in the world. He was an icon in Australia. He’s devoted so much to myself and other young Australian players who came after him. Most of us would feel he could’ve slipped on the green jacket, for sure. Part of this definitely belongs to him. He’s given me so much inspiration.”

Norman’s career included three second-place finishes, three thirds and a fourth at Augusta. The 1996 tournament ranks as one of sports’ most dramatic splats of all time. Norman held a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo but floundered with a final round score of 78, including five bogeys and two double-bogeys.

That day played out like a long dirge throughout Australia. There had been a hangover down under ever since.

That’s the thing about ghosts. They don’t leave – at least not until people have something or somebody new and better to experience.

Scott had his own ghosts to vanquish. He held a four-shot lead with four holes remaining in last year’s British Open. Then he face-planted with four straight bogeys. Australia covered its eyes. It was deja-blew-it all over again.

“I can’t justify anything I did out there today,” Scott said that day. “I let a great chance slip through my fingers, and I know it.”

Not on this Sunday. After clinching the win, Scott met his father, Phil, behind the 10th green and the two embraced. Phil said, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Adam Scott said later, “Greg was an inspiration and a hero for me. But my dad is the one who’s always been there. It was a great moment to be able to hug him back there.”

It was the perfect ending to an imperfect week. This Masters had been a strange one. Golf had taken a back seat to exploding clown feet on the tournament’s rules committee.

First there was Tianlang Guan, the only Masters’ qualifier in history who required a note from his mother so he could get out of middle school for the tournament. He was penalized a stroke for slow play on the 17th hole on Friday, nearly causing him to miss the cut. Then there was Woods’ retroactive, two-shot penalty for an allegedly illegal drop, an investigation that began with a citizen’s arrest when a mystery television viewer phoned in charges, which were dismissed, only then to be reignited by the belated discovery of Woods’ perceived post-round admissions to the media. Tournament officials then convicted on this audio “evidence.”

At some point, golf needed to take over this tournament again. It did.

The back nine played out with drama, miraculous shots and spectacular collapses. Brent Snedeker had a share of the lead, then folded with four bogeys on the back nine. Jason Day, one of Scott’s fellow Aussies, opened the day with a birdie and an eagle. He later birdied Nos. 13, 14 and 15, only to blow a two-shot lead with bogeys on the next two holes.

Scott endured. When he dropped in the 20-footer on the 18th in regulation, he gave a fist pump and, later recalled, “I let myself think I could’ve won.”

Those thoughts were there before in his country. But this time, Scott closed it out. The exorcism is complete.