The last of our Masters Memories is 2013, where Adam Scott finally won his first major after an epic tussle with fellow Australian Jason Day and former winner Angel Cabrera.
In recent years, several players have held the unwanted tag of ‘best player never to win a major’. Phil Mickelson took a while to win a major but hardly looked back once he had broken his duck. Colin Montgomerie never managed to shed it. But, by and large, all the big names have cracked it. Even Sergio Garcia did it last year, showing the calmness under pressure he lacked in his youth.
Like Garcia, Adam Scott had been touted as a major winner for at least a decade before that 2013 Masters. Aged 20, he claimed his first professional title at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in Johannesburg in January 2001. The golden boy was tied for ninth on his Masters debut in 2002 and won three more times on the European Tour before taking his first victory on the PGA Tour, in the Deutsche Bank Championship, in September 2003.
But he really announced himself as a force to be reckoned with the following March when he won golf’s unofficial fifth major, the Players Championship. Leading by two coming to the last, he managed to find water with his approach but scrambled to make bogey and win by one from Padraig Harrington.
Splitting his time between the European and PGA Tours, he averaged a couple of wins a year before going Stateside full-time in 2006. But he was unable to challenge for major titles. His best finish was joint-third at the PGA Championship in 2006 but that was only due to a fine fourth round moving him up the leaderboard when he had no chance of victory.
Scott had found a decent vein of form in 2008 but then things started to turn sour. He split up with Marie Kojzar, his girlfriend of seven years, broke his hand when his friend shut it in a car door, and suffered recurring throat infections due to a mystery illness.
Then came a surfing accident which left him with a dislocated kneecap and torn ligaments in his right knee. When he returned, he struggled badly with his game.
There was the distraction of a couple of high-profile dalliances, with Kate Hudson and Ana Ivanovic no less, and perhaps the realisation that he was no longer the young upstart. He split with swing coach Butch Harmon, six years after Tiger Woods did, but the biggest issue was his putting.
Average would be the kindest word to describe Scott on the greens. Before his 30th birthday, he was suffering with the dreaded yips. They relented long enough to enable him to win the Texas Open in May 2010 but, after a brief flirtation with a cross-handed putting grip, his coach bought him a broomstick putter.
Scott’s putting at the start of 2011 was so bad that he tried out the long putter, normally the preserve of the veteran pro who has lost his touch on the dance floor. Within weeks he was holing the short putts which had previously given him headaches, and properly contending at a major for the first time.
The Masters that year will always be remembered for Rory McIlroy’s final round meltdown, but Scott birdied the 16th to lead by one stroke from Charl Schwartzel. There was little he could do, however, as the South African charged home with four consecutive birdies to take the Green Jacket. Scott shared second with a certain Jason Day.
Scott soon acquired the services of caddy Steve Williams after his dismissal by Tiger Woods, and the New Zealander helped his trans-Tasman ally to his biggest win in a decade at August’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. And he was consistently making the top 10 in majors.
But in 2012 came Scott’s biggest setback. After three excellent rounds at Royal Lytham, he led the field by four strokes. He was still four clear with four to play. And then the sky fell in.
Ernie Els birdied the last to close the gap to three. Scott missed makeable par putts at 15 and 16, and a trip to thick rough on 17 saw his lead disappear. Now he needed to par the last to force a play-off. His tee-shot found sad, and a miss from 10 feet handed Els the most unexpected of major triumphs.
It was a collapse reminiscent of Jean van de Velde’s at Carnoustie in 1999. For Australian fans, it brought back unhappy memories of Greg Norman’s final round at Augusta in 1996 where he squandered a five-stroke lead.
Fast forward nine months to Augusta where the controversy preceded the tension. Woods received a two-shot penalty for an incorrect drop which some including Nick Faldo and Butch Harmon felt should have seen him disqualified. And 14-year-old Guan Tianlang became the only amateur to make the cut despite being docked a shot for slow play.
A slowburner of a tournament started to come to the boil on the Saturday afternoon. Jason Day was in the lead but two closing bogeys cost him dear. Especially as Scott, Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera were playing some sublime golf.
Snedeker made three birdies in the last six holes to end the day tied for the lead on seven-under. Cabrera joined him thanks to two late birdies. Scott also picked up two shots late on to end the day on six-under with Day one further back alongside a third Australian Marc Leishman.
On a cold and wet Sunday (what is it about poor weather making for thrilling Masters finishes?), Day was quickly back at the head of the leaderboard thanks to a birdie at the 1st followed by an eagle at the 2nd.
Snedeker birdied the first but three bogeys in five holes after the turn ended his hopes. Scott and Cabrera were both playing solidly and went ahead as Day dropped two shots on the front nine.
Nine times Australians had occupied the runner-up spot in the Masters. Only the rotund Argentine could deny them a first success. But Cabrera, a glorious putter on his day, already had two majors to his name including a Green Jacket and was in no mood to lie down.
Day made three consecutive birdies from 13 through to 15 to go into the outright lead on nine-under. But he dropped a shot at the 16th to be joined by Scott, and a nerveless putt on 16 from ‘El Pato’ made it a three-way tie for the lead on eight-under.
Three soon became two as Day dropped another shot on 17 before missing his birdie attempt at 18. Playing in the penultimate group, Scott made birdie from 20 feet to pile the pressure on the Argentine.
Cool as you like, Cabrera drew his iron to within three feet of the cup, pin-high, and tapped in to force a play-off.
With the rain lashing down, the two former Presidents Cup team-mates returned to the 18th tee. Both men left their approaches just short of the green. Cabrera’s chip just stayed out, and they halved the hole in par.
It was gloomy enough at Augusta without darkness setting in as the pair headed to the 10th. After almost identical tee shots, Cabrera’s approach was dead on target but just checked up short when one more bounce would have been perfect. Scott’s iron landed right of the pin, but took the slope to end up inside his rival.
Cabrera’s putt from 15 feet stayed agonisingly above the hole, leaving Scott a 12-footer to win….
It rolled unerringly into the middle of the cup to end Australia’s wait for a Masters champion.
Scott became the first man to use a long putter to win a major, and he dedicated his victory to his mentor Norman who had picked him for the 2009 Presidents Cup team despite his protege being in the doldrums. Afterwards, Scott revealed that he was back together with Marie Kojzar.
He kicked on over the next year or so, winning the Barclays near the end of the PGA Tour season before claiming two victories back in Australia. Scott’s game was as good as it had ever been and he became world number one for the first time in April 2014, holding it for 11 weeks.
But apart from consecutive victories in early 2016, using a short putter after anchoring was banned at the start of the year, Scott has failed to add to his sole major triumph. Now a father of two, his priorities may not be quite what they were. And sadly, the putting woes have returned making a revival unlikely at present.
After a number of near-misses, Day eventually lost his maiden tag in majors at the 2015 PGA Championship. A month later he became world number one for the first time.
Cabrera still has as many major titles as the two Australians combined. Age may be against him, but Augusta brings out the best in him. It would be no great surprise to see ‘El Pato’ on the first page of the TV leaderboard again this week.
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Also published on Medium.