Shot for shot, chip for chip and almost putt for putt, Australian Adam Scott and Argentina’s Angel Cabrera went at each other in near darkness and soaking rain Sunday night in a 77th Masters that forever will be remembered for one of the most enthralling finishes in the history of this storied event.
By sinking one last 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a breathtaking sudden-death playoff at Augusta National, Scott finally fulfilled what he had described as his “childhood dream” by becoming the first Australian golfer to win the Masters, also his own first major championship victory. That brush stroke of pure genius with a belly putter came moments after Cabrera, the 2009 champion, had barely missed his own 18-foot birdie putt by an inch on the right side of the cup, leaving Scott with what surely had to be the most pressure-packed stroke of his life.
The 32-year-old — long considered one of the smoothest swingers in the game — responded magnificently, just as Scott had done at the 18th hole in regulation when he made another incredible 25-footer for an improbable birdie he thought had won the tournament. Instead, Cabrera, playing one group behind him, hit his own second shot to the 18th green three feet from the pin, and then made the birdie putt to force the playoff.
“It’s incredible to be in this position,” Scott said after being presented with the green jacket by defending champion Bubba Watson. “Australia is a proud sporting nation. This is one notch on our sporting belt we never got. One guy inspired a nation of golfers, and that’s Greg Norman.”
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Scott posted a final-round 3-under-par 69 and Cabrera a 70 to tie at the top at 9-under 279. Australian Jason Day, who held a one-shot lead with three holes to play, bogeyed 16 and 17 and had to settle for third place with a round of 70 and seven-under 271.
In a media center interview, Scott gave full credit to his caddie, New Zealander Steve Williams, for helping him read the winning playoff putt at the 10th hole. Once the longtime caddie for Tiger Woods, Williams joined up with Scott in 2011 after Woods fired him.
“I could hardly see the green it was so dark,” Scott said. “I said [to Williams], ‘Do you think it’s one cup [of break],’ and he said, ‘It’s at least two.’ He was my eyes on that. It started on line and somehow went in.”
As for the putt at 18 in regulation, “I said to myself in my head, this putt you’ve seen guys make. You’ve seen the read, you know it goes right to left. I told myself to go on instinct. Hit it and show everyone how much you want it.”
Cabrera, obviously, wanted it as well, and he nearly pulled off an improbable victory considering he came into the week ranked 269th in the world after suffering from dental problems over the past two years that clearly affected his game. Both he and Scott were teammates in Presidents Cup competition and are good friends, as well.
“He’s a great person, a great player and I’m happy for him,” Cabrera said. “A playoff is one-on-one, head-to-head. There’s got to be only one winner, and that is him.”
Aside from Cabrera, perhaps the most disappointed player on the property had to be pretournament favorite Woods, who posted a 70, finished at 5-under 283 and tied for fourth place with Australian Marc Leishman (72), four shots from the winning score.
The No. 1 player in the world rankings faltered early, rallied late and will forever be haunted by that two-stroke penalty for an improper drop on the 15th hole on Friday. Considering his third shot there that fateful day surely would have left him an excellent birdie opportunity until it hit the flagstick and caromed back into the water, that hole — and his incorrect drop — essentially cost him the tournament. He took an eight on the hole instead of a possible four, the same number of strokes between him and the two men in the playoff.
“I played well but just didn’t make enough putts,” Woods said. “I had the opportunity. If I shot 65, I thought I could win it outright. … I had a hard time getting accustomed to the speed [of the greens]. It was so much slower than it was [Saturday]. Putts just weren’t rolling out.”
They also were jot rolling in at all the proper times for so many of the contending players on the leaderboard.
Day could also look back in anguish at his finish on Saturday when he made two sloppy three-putt bogeys on last two holes of the day, costing him a share of the 54-hole lead. Day nearly holed out his 22-footer for birdie at the 18th on Sunday, missing by inches, but as it turned out, even if he had made the putt, he would not have made the playoff.
“It was really tough,” he said. “The pressure got to me a little bit.”
The same might also be said of third-round co-leader Brandt Snedeker, the 32-year-old Nashville native who had sounded so confident about his chances for his first major title Saturday evening after his third-round 69. Instead, he fell out of contention with back-to-back bogeys on his first two holes on the back nine Sunday, then lost any chance with another bogey at the 14th. He signed for a 75 and tied for sixth at 4-under 284.
Scott began the day only a shot off the 54-hole lead, and admitted he also had trouble reading the speed of the greens, particularly when an all-afternoon rain slowed them considerably.
“It was just an unreal day where everything fell my way,” he said. “I just kept plugging away. I’m so proud of myself and everyone around me. … I’m a proud Australian, and I hope this sits well back home. It’s hard to put it all together in my mind. It’s a real honor.”