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Commentary: Right man won the Masters, and Australia is proud

9:46 AM, Apr 15, 2013   |    comments
Adam Scott at the Masters/USA TODAY
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by Christine Brennan, USA TODAY Sports

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Adam Scott did more than win the Masters on Sunday. His gripping playoff duel with his friend Angel Cabrera saved the tournament from itself.

Distracted, if not outright tainted, by the controversial ruling that allowed Tiger Woods to keep playing over the weekend, the Masters righted itself with a magnificent, rain-soaked battle between two Presidents Cup teammates, an Australian and Argentinian, who were so closely matched that on the first playoff hole, their approach shots might as well have been filled with magnets, rolling to a stop a few feet from each other on the slope in front of the green.

Scott, 32, who had never won a major and lost last year's British Open by bogeying the final four holes, made up for a frustrating Sunday of missed putts by sinking a 20-footer on the 18th hole. His reaction was one of delight, for himself, certainly, but also for his golf-crazy country, which had never had a Masters champion. (See Norman, Greg, et al.)

"Come on, Aussie!" he roared. He high-fived everyone in sight - his caddie, Steve Williams, who had definitely been here before, and practically every fan on his way to sign his scorecard.

He took the lead by one stroke. It was logical to think that he would win the Masters. "I might have showed that," he said later with a laugh. "I was pumped. I had to seize it right there."

But it was not over, because right behind him, in the last group of the day, came Cabrera, the 43-year-old grandfather and winner of the 2009 Masters. He stuck his approach on 18 to within three feet, made it, and the game was on.

They played 18 again as their first playoff hole. A chip-off ended in a draw. They went to No. 10, where Bubba Watson won last year's Masters. Some serious sportsmanship broke out on the fairway when Cabrera gave Scott a thumb's up across the lush green landscape after his shot, and Scott gestured his congratulations back to his rival. The game of golf, which took quite a beating with the Woods controversy over the weekend, needed this.

"Angel is a great man," Scott said later. "I think he's a gentleman and to do that at that point was very nice. With limited abilities to converse (Cabrera speaks Spanish exclusively), we would consider each other friends and have a lot of respect for each other."

At the 2009 Presidents Cup, when Scott was not playing well, Cabrera pulled him aside:

"He said a great thing to me: 'You're a great, great player.' That's something I didn't forget."

Onto the final moments of the 2013 Masters: On the 10th green, Cabrera, always the fiercest of competitors, if not the most surprising, in these situations, nearly made his curling attempt at birdie, the ball hanging on the lip. Then it was Scott's turn. He relied on Williams, Woods' former caddie, to give him the read of the 12-foot putt. It was right on the money, dropping in to end the duel in the darkness.

"I'm a proud Australian," Scott said, "and I hope this sits very well back at home. It's amazing it's my destiny to be the first Aussie to win."

As irony would have it, Woods didn't win, but his old caddie did. Williams was on the bag when Tiger won 13 of his 14 majors, and Woods hasn't won one since they split. But Scott now has.

As for Woods, he left Augusta in bitter disappointment. Ranked No. 1 in the world, he had won three of the five PGA Tour tournaments he played coming into the Masters. He was on a roll. He said he was as ready as he'll ever be to win another major. This was his tournament to lose, and he lost it.

At 37, he still likely has years to play, but Sunday's final round showed how the floodgates have opened with young golfers from around the world over the past few years: men who grew up watching Woods play, wanted to emulate him in every way and absolutely are not afraid of him.

For that, among many reasons, it is now five years since Woods has won a major - a whopping 19 majors without a victory for Woods since his dramatic 2008 U.S. Open triumph on a bad leg at Torrey Pines.

He told himself he had to shoot 7-under-par 65 to win Sunday - and he didn't get close, shooting two-under 70 after an uncharacteristically shaky start, with two bogeys in the first seven holes. He was right, too. If he had shot a total of 10-under, which a 65 would have given him, he would have beaten Scott and Cabrera by a shot.

Woods' finish - a tie for fourth - allowed Augusta National officials to breathe a sigh of relief. Woods was penalized two shots Saturday after it was deemed he took an illegal drop on the 15th hole Friday, but he was allowed to keep playing due to a controversial, two-year-old, little-known rule dealing with information phoned in by public whistle-blowers.

It was not difficult to imagine what the outcry would have been from the rules-driven game of golf had a man who in the end signed an incorrect scorecard won the Masters. When Scott won, he ensured that this Masters would never be known as the Masterisk.

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