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Scott finally scores one for Australia
Adam Scott extended his arms through the soft rain to the gray heavens and bellowed the war cry of a nation.
It was part plaintive wail, part exaltation. For this moment had been a very long time in coming.
“It's amazing that it's my destiny to be the first Aussie to win. Just incredible,” he said.
Marc Leishman and his caddie, Matt Kelly, jumped for joy, which isn’t exactly normal behavior given Leishman had a chance to win the Masters but slipped to finish tied with Tiger Woods for fourth.
But they’re Aussies, too, and this most individual of sports on this particular afternoon had become a team sport — a team of about 23 million.
“We’re all Australians,” Scott said later. “We’re in it together. We all know what this means.”
What this means is hard to understand if you aren’t Australian.
“We are a proud sporting country,” Scott said, “and this was one notch in the belt that we had never got.”
Australia’s a rugged, sunburned country where sports is king. It might be a remote nation at the bottom of the world, not a mover and shaker geopolitically, but Australians are determined to leave their mark. They’re competitive and aren’t afraid of measuring themselves against the world’s best.
They also tend to punch above their weight.
For such a small population, Australians boast an impressive sporting résumé, having produced champions in many sports, from tennis to cricket, rugby to motorsports. In 2000 at the Sydney Olympics, Australia finished behind only the USA and Russia on the medal table.
In 1983, when Australia became the first nation in 132 years to wrest the America’s Cup from the United States in sailing, then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke, covered in champagne, famously declared that any boss who’d fire an employee for not showing up to work that day was “a bum”.
The only other big trophy Australians hadn’t claimed was the Tour de France, but Cadel Evans took care of that in 2011. All that remained to be conquered, then, was a little golf tournament in the Deep South. Australians had won three of golf’s majors but never the Masters.
And it wasn’t just that they’d failed here, but how they’d been deprived that left scars on the national psyche.
Eight times Australians had finished second at the Masters. Most heartbreakingly, Greg Norman, blond and dashing, the epitome of an Australian sporting hero, had fallen victim to the Aussie curse here three times.
When the Shark blew a six-shot lead in the final round to Nick Faldo in 1996, it was like a day of mourning Down Under.
Back in Queensland, Norman’s home state, a teenager awoke early in the morning to watch his hero’s coronation.
Instead, like many Australians, Adam Scott cried at Norman’s crucifixion.
Since then, Scott’s become a protégé of the Shark, and it was fitting as he pulled on the world’s most coveted green jacket that he thought of his mentor.
“There was one guy who inspired a nation of golfers,” Scott said, “and that’s Greg Norman.”
“He’s been incredible to me and to all the young golfers in Australia. And part of this definitely belongs to him.”
Norman watched Sunday’s drama unfold from his home in Florida. He was so nervous that he went to the gym for a while to let off steam. He acknowledged having a tear in his eye as Scott drained a 15-footer for birdie on the second playoff hole to defeat Angel Cabrera.
“I have been a huge believer in Adam and I am so proud of him, as is the rest of Australia,” Norman said in a Facebook post. “Adam is a great player and I'm confident this victory will catapult him to win more majors. It will not surprise me if he wins more major championships than any other Australian golfer in history.
“I was very proud of all of the Aussies today. It gave me so much pride to look up at the leaderboard and see three Aussie flags on there” — Jason Day also was in the hunt — “and I was on the edge of my seat all afternoon.”
Scott said he hadn’t had time to think of what he’d say to Norman.
“A phone conversation isn’t going to do it for us,” he said. “We are really close, and I’d love to share a beer with him over this one.”
Certainly, Scott was a popular winner, and not just because of his late collapse at last year’s British Open, where he led by four with four to play and lost to Ernie Els.
The easy-going 32-year-old is probably the most well-liked player in golf. Masters media chairman Craig Heatley, who’s from New Zealand, welled up when he introduced Scott, who was given a round of applause by the media. I don’t remember the last time any athlete was applauded by journalists, who aren’t supposed to cheer.
But it’s hard not to cheer for Adam Scott. Especially if, like me, you’re Australian.