WITH one smooth stroke with his long putter, Adam Scott looked to have wiped away the pain.
Around nine months after suffering the heartbreak of blowing a big lead on the last day of the Open Championship at Royal Lytham, a first major was in his grasp when a 20-foot birdie putt fell in the side door at the final hole in the 77th Masters.
“Come on Aussies,” he screamed in anticipation of becoming the first Australian to wear a Green Jacket. Standing down the 18th fairway waiting to play his second shot, Angel Cabrera probably heard that but the Argentinean wasn’t intimidated. The winner in 2009 knocked an 8-iron to three feet and holed the putt to match Scott’s nine-under total of 279.
In the event’s third play-off in five years, the first extra hole was halved in four before Scott won the title with a birdie at the second.
In a dramatic final hour, Scott’s compatriot, Jason Day, had arrived on the 16th tee with a two-shot lead but came unstuck for the second day running over the closing stretch. aThe runner-up two years ago, he finished third this time on 281, one ahead of yet another Aussie, Marc Leishman, and Tiger Woods.
On a miserable day – it started to rain within an hour of the last few groups getting out on the course and got heavier as the drama heightened – the first thrust on the leaderboard came from Bernhard Langer, the winner, exactly to the day, in 1993. The 55-year-old German started with three birdies to immediately move to five-under. His challenge soon petered out, though.
A new day brought a renewed challenge from Day. Two clear at one point on Saturday, he’d three-putted the final two holes to slip two off the pace. He looked a man on a mission setting out again. The first produced a birdie; the second an eagle thanks to a holed bunker shot.
Bidding to go one better than 2011, when he was pipped by Charl Schwartzel, Day, despite a bogey at the sixth, was still ticking along nicely until he carved his shot into the trees at the ninth. From there, he did well to get the next one close to the green. A flop shot then came back to his feet, though, and a 5 took him out in 35.
In the group ahead, it was the same old story for Woods since the last of his four wins here in 2005. In short, the world No 1 simply didn’t hole enough putts. Like most of the others, he struggled with the pace on the saturated surfaces. Normally lightning-fast, they were as close to slow as they get here.
Two-over after seven wasn’t the start Woods needed. Back-to-back birdies at the ninth and tenth got the juices flowing and he came home in 33 for a closing 70 but, in the end, he simply ran out of holes. Perhaps it was best that he didn’t win here as it might have been tainted following the events that led him to being hit with a two-shot penalty for an illegal drop in the second round.
Others to come alive on the back nine – not everyone enjoyed the homeward journey as defending champion Bubba Watson and Kevin Na both ran up tens at the par-3 12th – included debutant Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
Olesen, one of the rising stars in European golf, birdied three holes out of four from the 13th to get to five-under before dropping a shot at the last. He signed off with a second successive 68 to finish on four-under. Garcia, who’d shared the lead after round one before slumping to a 76, was a shot back after a 70.
Cabrera’s start was steady rather than spectacular. It was good enough, though, to see him move into the lead on his own at eight-under after his first five holes. The 43-year-old, who’d also been in the final group alongside Rory McIlroy two years ago, birdied the second and seventh, the latter just a tap-in after a splendid approach.
Playing partner Snedeker wasn’t firing on all cylinders early on. He’d made an ominous move late on in the third round but, after starting the final circuit with a birdie, he suddenly began to look a bit jittery. It led to bogeys at the fourth and fifth.
A birdie 4 at the eighth repaired some of that damage. Cabrera, though, started the journey for home with a two-shot lead over the American, with Day and Scott, who had Woods’ old caddie Steve Williams on his bag, a further stroke back.
Both Cabrera and Snedeker pushed their tee shots into “Bubba-territory” at the tenth. Unlike last year’s winner, neither could find the green with their recoveries and signed for 5s.
Leishman, the third Australian in contention heading into the final round, continued to dig in doggedly, as he’d done since sharing the first-round lead with Garcia, without ever looking as though he’d emerge as the champion.
Winner of the Tennant Cup in Glasgow eight years ago in his amateur days, he made a great birdie across the green at the 11th before seeing his hopes effectively ended by a visit to the water at the 15th. Snedeker had shot his bolt by then.
Scott, who dropped a shot at the first but quickly bounced back from that with a birdie at the third, made his first significant move helped by a stroke of good fortune.
His approach at the 13th came up a tad short and could easily have run into the creek. Instead, it stayed on the bank and he made birdie. A few minutes later, Snedeker didn’t deserve any luck with a poor second that found the same patch of water, and then Cabrera followed him into the drink.
It cost Cabrera a bogey; Snedeker scrambled a par. With Day, who’d produced a great up and down from a bunker to birdie the 13th, adding another one at the next to move to eight-under, he was suddenly back in the lead.
It was his turn for a lucky break at the 15th. A wayward tee shot hit the base of a tree and ended up in the middle of the fairway. It left him needing a 4-iron to find the heart of the green and two putts from 30 feet made it three birdies in a row.
At nine-under, he was two in front – but not for long. Just after Scott had also birdied the 15th, Day missed a shortish par putt. Cabrera, who hadn’t thrown in the towel, joined them on eight-under with a great 2 at the 16th. It was him and Scott out in front when Day paid the price for a mis-hit second at the 17th and dropped back to seven-under.
Scott left a birdie putt just short at the 17th; Cabrera let go of his putter in disbelief after his effort there shaved the hole. When Day was unable to birdie the last, Scott and Cabrera were free to deliver a fitting finale to a thrilling last day, won in the end by the Australian.