This time, the putt didn’t slip past the hole. This time, Adam Scott’s world did not crumble around him by the width of a thumbnail.
Ernie Els was right. It wasn’t just lip service back in July, at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, when he took the occasion, as the new British Open champion, to tell the world in the aftermath of his victory that the man who had barely missed a 15-foot putt that would have taken them back out on the course for a playoff would be a major champion soon.
And so he is.
Adam Scott is the 2013 Masters champion, a member of golf’s coveted Green Jacket Club. Also, an Australian national hero.
Stunningly, in the framework of the iconic career of Greg Norman, Scott is the first Aussie to win a Masters. Scott said Norman “inspired a generation of Australian golfers” and offered a symbolic piece of this victory to Norman.
One can only imagine that Norman, with several near misses here, will gladly accept a green pocket.
Scott’s Masters title carried on the tradition of spine-chilling, dramatic finishes at Augusta National.
Even most Masters champions need only to make one gut-wrenching putt to close it out at the end. Scott needed two.
He came to the 18th hole needing a birdie to take the lead. All he had to do was roll in a 20-footer, with a massive crowd circling the green and several million people watching on TV. No pressure there.
But he did.
Even though Argentina’s Angel Cabrera was out on the fairway with a chance to match it, Scott’s celebration was understandable and warranted. Birdies on No. 18 that mean winning or losing are rare at the Masters. Everything looked as if Scott’s had finished things.
He turned to the crowd, shouted “come on Aussies” and high-fived his caddie, New Zealander Steve Williams.
“I think that’s one time that he didn’t mind,” Scott said later, of the Australian-centric burst of joy.
But Cabrera, the 43-year-old golfing puzzle, who has won two majors, but who also entered this Masters ranked No. 269 in the world, had something left to say.
While Scott watched on TV in the scoring room, Cabrera, playing in the final twosome and needing a birdie of his own to force a playoff, hit it to three feet.
Scott’s joy had turned out to be premature celebration.
With darkness closing in, they started the sudden-death playoff on No. 18, matched approach shots that left each with chips from the fringe, and traded pars. But not without a heart-stopper for Scott, as Cabrera’s beautifully struck shot rolled right over the edge of the cup.
“I thought,” Scott said, “is it going to end like this?”
They went to the second playoff hole, the now famous No. 10 where, last year, winner Bubba Watson made the near-impossible hook shot out of the woods and onto the green. Cabrera and Scott did things with less flair. They drove to the fairway’s center, then Cabrera hit it to about 20 feet below the hole and Scott to about 12 to the right of it.
Cabrera, who had hit first, gave Scott a thumbs-up as they walked to their putts. Then the long-hitting Argentine rolled his putt beautifully and watched in astonishment as it curled past and stopped an inch or so away. In the course of perhaps 15 minutes, Cabrera had missed two possible winning chances by a total of perhaps two inches.
Then Scott, who has been among those mentioned for the last several years as a certainty to win a major, but who had furrowed many brows with his four-bogey finish at last year’s British Open, stroked his winner straight into the cup.
“It was getting dark,” he said, “and I couldn’t get a good read. So I called Stevie over, and he said it was at least two cups out on the right. He was my eyes, and what a great read.”
This time, the celebration was real. Scott got hugs all around, including Cabrera, who he says is a friend.
“I was happy for him,” Cabrera said. “I told him that he deserved it.”
Scott said that, at one point, when he was struggling with his game a few years ago and he was on a President’s Cup team with Cabrera, the Argentine took him aside and told him to keep going.
“He told me I was a great player,” Scott said.
In the end, both handled the outcome with class and perspective.
Asked about his near misses and putts that just didn’t fall, Cabrera said, “That’s golf. It gives and it takes.”
Scott said, “It was an incredible day. Everything just fell my way.”
And so, a Masters tournament that had had its negative moments -- the slow play penalty assessed to a 14-year-old Chinese amateur and the ruckus over the two-stroke penalty to Tiger Woods that still allowed him to keep playing -- ended on its usual high note.
Drama and great sportsmanship prevailed. The legacy of Greg Norman was enhanced.
And Ernie Els can feel good about more than his closing 69 and 13th-place finish.